For many Americans, the start of November brings thoughts of Thanksgiving. At the heart of our national holiday is gratitude for family, friends, and abundant food. For this reason, in 2010, the US Senate chose November as the ideal time to institute Stomach Cancer Awareness Month. Dr. Ranvir Singh, M.D. and his fellow physicians at Digestive Care Physicians, LLC believe that prevention is the best medicine. If you have a concern about your digestive system, call for an appointment. They have several offices conveniently located to serve all of North Fulton County, Gwinnett, and Forsyth.

The primary goal of this yearly tradition is public education on gastric cancer, emphasizing the need for early detection and timely treatment. Awareness will help garner financial support for research.

With a hope that all might be spared this disease, we dedicate this blog to the health of your loved ones. Here’s how to guard against stomach cancer.

stomach cancer | illustration showing stomach with a tumorDisabled DNA

All cancers have one common denominator– they originate from abnormal changes in DNA. This genetic material dictates cellular functions. When DNA gets corrupted, cells lose their sanity. Growing and dividing speedily, they outlast their normal lifespan, morphing into masses. When tumor cells dislodge, they travel to other body regions, a process called “metastasis.”

Cancer of the stomach typically affects mucus-producing cells lining the inner organ. Frequently, tumors arise at the gastroesophageal junction, where the upper stomach meets the food tube or esophagus. This type of cancer is medically termed “gastric adenocarcinoma.” Abnormal cells can also develop in the stomach body, its main part.

Lurking Undercover

Usually, the disease grows slowly, over the course of several years. In its early stages, stomach cancer rarely produces symptoms. Without screening tests, the disease goes unnoticed, allowing it to expand. Currently in the US, only one in five cases is caught early, before metastasis occurs.

Survival statistics are grim. Roughly 30% of those diagnosed are alive five years later. With such a bleak prognosis, full recovery hinges on early detection.

Initial Symptoms

There are several common symptoms that might indicate a need for a check-up:

  • Heartburn
  • Frequent burping
  • Feeling full after light meals
  • Post-meal bloat
  • Persistent indigestion
  • Poor appetite

Advanced Cancer

There are several indications that you may have an evolving stomach tumor:

  • Stomach or breastbone pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting, possibly bloody
  • Constipation or diarrhea
  • Bloody or black stools
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Extreme fatigue and weakness

Additionally, there may be vague discomfort above the navel. Accumulating abdominal fluid makes the belly feel lumpy. Stomach pain may worsen after eating.

Medical Risk Factors

Certain conditions increase your vulnerability to stomach cancer.

Bacterial Infection – H. pylori is a germ that assaults the stomach lining, causing ulcers, gastritis, and cellular changes.

Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease – Abbreviated (GERD), this illness results from the frequent backwash of stomach contents into the esophagus. Digestive acids cause heartburn, inflaming the gastroesophageal junction and possibly damaging cellular DNA.

Adenomas – These precancerous polyps consist of abnormal glandular cells in the stomach lining. Adenomas greater than 2 cm are most suspect for becoming cancerous.

Pernicious Anemia – Vitamin B12 malabsorption impairs red blood cell production, which can lead to polyps.

Family History – You can inherit a tendency for gastric cancer from relatives, especially those prone to polyps and BRCA gene mutations. Ethnicity plays a role. Stomach cancer is more common in people of South American, Asian, and Belarusian heritage. Additionally, people age 50+ are more at risk, especially men.

Barrett’s Esophagus – With this GERD complication, esophageal cells are destroyed by repeated exposure to stomach acids.

Cancer History – Gastric adenocarcinoma can result from metastasis of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and tumors of the esophagus, bladder, prostate, testes, cervix, breast, and ovaries.

Lifestyle Influences

The following risk factors are under your control:

Diet – Cancer-causing suspects are meats prepared by grilling, curing, smoking, and barbecuing. Nitrates are among the chemical compounds implicated. Other dietary contributors are high salt intake, skimping on produce, and eating meat that’s improperly frozen, refrigerated, or cooked.

Alcohol – Stomach cells are poisoned by downing more than three alcoholic drinks per day.

Smoking – Cancer risk doubles with a heavy cigarette habit, along with breathing second-hand smoke.

Obesity – In overweight people, the upper stomach region is susceptible to cancer.

Sedentary Lifestyle – Lack of exercise also plays a part.

Diagnosis

If you or your loved ones have any of the above symptoms or risk factors, promptly make an appointment at Digestive Care Physicians. During the consultation, a caring gastroenterologist will review your medical history, examine you, and order blood tests. The doctor may also consider the following procedures to aid diagnosis.

Upper Endoscopy – This entails visualizing the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract, using a thin, flexible tube, equipped with a light and tiny video camera. During upper endoscopy, the doctor may take “biopsies,” tissue samples for microscopic examination, to identify cancer cells.

Upper GI Series – This x-ray exam involves oral intake of barium, a chalky white material that coats the esophagus, stomach, and small intestine, so they’re more visible on x-ray. Also termed a “barium swallow,” the test reveals GI abnormalities, including tumors.

Abdominal CT Scan – A sophisticated x-ray machine takes cross-sectional pictures of abdominal organs, blood vessels, and lymph nodes, from several angles. A computer assembles the films into a 3-D image.

Treatment

Since the aim of this blog is prevention, we won’t discuss cancer treatment options here. For detailed information, see this article by the American Cancer Society.

Proactive Strategies

The mechanism of DNA corruption isn’t clear. Still, you can build your family’s defenses against stomach cancer. Here’s a five-step action plan:

  • Prioritize produce. The recommended daily intake for men is 2 cups of fruit and 3 cups of vegetables. Ladies need 2 cups of fruit and 2 cups of veggies daily. If you have children, see this age-based guideline.
  • Reduce sodium. Avoid smoked, cured, and salty foods, including processed meats and pickled vegetables. Empty your salt shaker, filling it with delicious herbs instead.
  • Ditch cigarettes. If you smoke, joining a support group can help you quit. Being smoke-free slashes your gastric cancer risk by half! Also, advise your family to keep a wide birth around smokers.
  • Exercise daily. Choose a fun activity, so you’ll be psyched to do it regularly. Consider dancing, gardening, jumping rope, power walking, swimming, playing sports, cycling, rowing, hiking, and hula-hooping. Daily stints will help you sustain a healthy weight.
  • Consult with a gastroenterologist. For ongoing digestive difficulties, keep in touch with your GI doctor.

Appointments

Digestive Care Physicians has four convenient locations – in Cumming, Johns Creek, Alpharetta, and Lawrenceville. We care for residents of greater Atlanta, including those from Marietta, Suwanee, Milton, Canton, Sandy Springs, Duluth, and Roswell. Our compassionate staff includes five doctors, a family nurse practitioner, physician’s assistant, and registered dietitian.

Banning Cancer

In our country, roughly 25,500 new cases of gastric cancer are identified each year. This fact proves our need to spread the word on this disease.

Digestive wellness is a precious gift! This Thanksgiving and always, we want you to enjoy this blessing. We look forward to serving you.

Note – The information shared here cannot replace professional medical advice. For concerns about stomach cancer, see the experts at Digestive Care Physicians.

© 2018 Digestive Care Physicians. All rights reserved.