Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is a severe and potentially life-threatening condition if not detected early. It starts when cells in the stomach begin to grow out of control, according to the American Cancer Society. It is a severe type of cancer that is difficult to treat.
About 20 out of 100 people with stomach cancer will survive for five years or more after they are diagnosed. This means that 80 out of 100 people with stomach cancer will die within five years of being diagnosed, the National Library of Medicine notes.
Despite its prevalence, the symptoms can be subtle and are often mistaken for common digestive troubles, making it challenging to diagnose promptly. This article will walk you through the key symptoms of stomach cancer you shouldn’t ignore, making you better equipped to take prompt action and discuss any concerns with your doctor.
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Early Warning Signs
Knowing the early signs of stomach cancer can potentially save your life. Symptoms may vary from person to person, but common ones include:
- Persistent indigestion or heartburn
- Frequent stomach pain
- Feeling bloated after meals
- Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
- Frequent burping
“Early-stage symptoms of stomach cancer are often unclear and easily mistaken for other less serious conditions,” warns Dr. Natalia Hapych, a family doctor. “It is crucial to pay attention to your body and seek medical advice if these symptoms persist or worsen over time.”
As stomach cancer progresses, more severe symptoms may arise. These can include:
- Unexplained weight loss
- Stomach pain or discomfort
- Persistent vomiting
- Anemia (a decrease in red blood cells leading to paleness, tiredness, weakness, and breathlessness)
- Bloody or black stools, which can indicate bleeding in the stomach
“It’s essential to understand that not everyone with stomach cancer will exhibit all these symptoms,” adds Dr. Hapych. “However, if you experience any of them persistently, especially in combination, it warrants immediate medical attention.”
Diagnosis of Stomach Cancer
If you exhibit persistent symptoms suggestive of stomach cancer, your doctor will likely suggest diagnostic tests. These may include:
- Upper endoscopy: A flexible tube with a camera is passed down your throat to examine your stomach and take tissue samples (biopsy) if needed.
- Imaging tests: These could include CT scans or X-rays to visualize the stomach and surrounding structures.
- Blood tests: These can help detect anemia, a common sign of stomach cancer, and may also identify the presence of certain cancer markers.
Prevention and Risk Factors
While it’s not possible to prevent all cases of stomach cancer, understanding and controlling certain risk factors can lower your chances of developing the disease. These include:
- Diet: Consuming large amounts of salted fish, smoked foods, meat, and pickled vegetables can increase your risk.
- Smoking: Smokers are twice as likely as non-smokers to develop stomach cancer.
- H. Pylori infection: This common stomach infection can lead to ulcers and has been linked to stomach cancer.
- Family history: Those with a family history of stomach cancer are at a higher risk.
A balanced diet, regular exercise, and quitting smoking can help reduce your risk of stomach cancer.
Dr. Hapych emphasizes, “Don’t ignore persistent, unexplained stomach pain or discomfort, sudden weight loss, or changes in bowel habits. Early detection is key in the fight against stomach cancer.”
Further Reading: The Signs and Symptoms of Pancreatic Cancer