All gastrointestinal cancers are serious and treatment is difficult. Recovery is usually slow.
Stomach Cancer Is Probably The Most Common Cancer Of The Gastrointestinal Tract
There are over eight cancers that commonly affect the gastrointestinal tract, a particularly complicated series of connected organs which start with the mouth and end at the anus. As well as these there are mouth, throat and salivary gland cancers but for the purpose of this article I’ll stick just to stomach cancer.
The Potential For Problems Is Very Real
There are a lot of things that can wrong along the gastrointestinal tract (a.k.a. alimentary canal) as there are so many different functions involved in the processing of food to extract nutrients and supply the energy necessary to keep us alive. The systems are complicated, there are acids involved and the opportunity to feed inappropriate material into our bodies is unlimited. It is not surprising that things go wrong.
There Are Plenty Of Non-Cancerous Problems Too
Cancers are not the only troubles that can develop in the gastrointestinal tract; there are also a number of non-malignant problems that can develop along gastrointestinal tract.
This year just over 21,000 Americans will develop stomach cancer and almost 11,000 will die of it.
Stomach Cancer More Common Than It Might Seem
Most people diagnosed with stomach cancer are older, usually over 65 and this is probably due to the cancer being slow to develop and get to the stage where a noticeable problem develops. It is surprisingly common despite the relatively low number of new cases each year.
For every 115 adults one is likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer making stomach cancer the 14th most common cancer in the U.S. It is common enough to be concerned about and should prompt you to take steps to reduce your risk.
Stomach Cancer Rates Slowly Dropping
Stomach Cancer is actually becoming less common due to several factors. One is the use of refrigeration to store food which has lead to an increase in the consumption of fresh fruit and vegetables.
Yet another important factor in the declining rate of stomach cancer is the use of refrigeration for storing meat. The slight decay of unrefrigerated meats in pre-refrigeration times produced carcinogens which precipitated stomach cancers.
Another factor is the lower consumption of salt because of decreasing amounts used in processed food but is mainly due to the almost complete disappearance of the use of salt as a food preservative.
The increasing consumption of fruit and vegetables and the increasing awareness of the importance of fibre in the diet is also helping to reduce the rates of stomach cancer.
Improved sanitation, antibiotics and increasing awareness of infections, better hygiene and improved treatments all have played a part in reducing stomach cancers.
Still, after all the benefits of modern food storage and treatment, stomach cancer globally is still number four in killer cancers after lung, breast and colon/rectum cancers. Worldwide, stomach cancer is responsible for approximately 800,000 deaths each year. Some statistics tend to show that stomach cancer is number two killer coming in after lung cancer. Despite which set of records one looks at, stomach cancer is still a major health problem.
Causes Of Stomach Cancer
There is probably no one cause of any cancer anywhere along the gastrointestinal tract but the risk factors have been identified as:
- Excessive alcohol consumption. (Note: Studies have found a strong link between cigarette smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and stomach cancer. A Taiwanese study concluded: “cigarette smoking may play the most harmful role in the initial development of gastric cancer, and that drinking alcohol may promote the process”. Other studies agree with this conclusion.
- Diets high in animal fats.
- Diet containing high amounts of smoked, salted, cured, or poorly preserved foods. Pickled vegetables, once common, are now rarely eaten in quantity.
- Eating over cooked and burnt meat such that as comes off too many barbecues.
- A diet low in fresh fruit, vegetables and whole grains.
- Lack of fibre in diet
- Chronic pancreatitis.
- Increasing age.
- A genetic predisposition
- Bacterial infection by bacteria known as Helicobacter pylori which seems to be linked to stomach ulcers and stomach cancer
- Previous gastric surgery
- Pernicious anemia which leads to an inability to absorb vitamin B12
- Polyps in the rectum or colon
- Long term inflammation of the stomachs mucus lining (gastritis)
- Radiation exposure
In the early stages of stomach cancer you don’t know. The disease is symptomless but later, as the cancer grows you will experience some symptoms. There may be some unexplained weight loss as the digestion process may be disturbed and you may notice a loss of appetite. There may be indigestion, feelings of nausea for no discernable reason and you might vomit.
Other symptoms include a difficulty in swallowing, your stomach may not hold its contents long enough for digestion to be completed, or you may feel full all the time as though your stomach is overfull so there could be feelings of discomfort in your abdomen. If there is bleeding going on in the stomach your faeces will be black and in some cases you may find blood in your stomach contents if you vomit.
You are unlikely to experience all of these symptoms so if you feel sick, have indigestion or some other symptoms don’t panic. See your Doctor as there are many conditions that could be the cause of your trouble and these are usually treatable relatively short term problems. You shouldn’t assume that you have stomach cancer; your Doctor will make a diagnosis after an examination and, most likely, after consultation with a specialist.
The question is, “How do you stop yourself from getting stomach cancer?”
Well the answer is not straight forward. If someone young develops stomach cancer the chances are they may have a genetic predisposition and unfortunately they drew the short straw. If there is a history of stomach cancer in the family then a common sense precaution would be to ensure your diet contains plenty of fruit and vegetables and is generally high in fibre. Smoking would be a very risky habit if there has been stomach cancer in your family lineage.
For an unfortunate few of us, we will develop stomach cancer even if we have tried to do everything right. Some cancers seem to be a random affliction and life can deal up some very unfair hands.
However the, for the rest of us the prevention strategy is not that difficult or mysterious. Here is the way to minimise your risk of developing stomach cancer – it will not guarantee you a cancer free life but it will maximise your chances of a healthy future.
1. Stop smoking
2. Don’t drink more than is good for you. Alcohol is linked to the development of 3.6% of all cancers and 3.5% of all cancer deaths globally so limit your drinking to less than three standard drinks per week. The World Cancer Research Fund suggest no more than two drinks a day for a man and one for a woman. Personally I consider this to far too many as it equates to 14 drinks a week and good medical advice suggests it is a good thing to give your body a break from having to deal with alcohol for a few days each week.
3. Eat plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables. You cannot eat too much fruit and vegetables. They are an extremely important part of a healthy diet because they are rich in minerals, vitamins and fiber.
4. Make sure you have plenty of fiber in your diet to keep the food mass passing through your gastrointestinal tract and to pick up any toxins in the food waste to ensure they are removed from your body in your stools. You can add fibre to breakfast cereals or buy a cereal loaded with extra fibre.
5. Only eat meat that is properly cooked and of modest portion size. Meat is valuable nutritionally but over consumption is not necessary.
6. Don’t get Overweight. Keep your weight to that which is suitable for your body type and size
In the meantime just make sure you enjoy a healthy diet that will minimize your risk.