STOMACH CANCER THE SILENT KILLER: Here are the signs and symptoms

According to WHO, cancer is the leading cause of death worldwide, killing about 9.6 million people. Gastric cancer or stomach cancer is one of the most common cancers; In 2018, there were 1.03 million cases and 783,000 deaths in the same year. It is a disease that we need to be aware of, especially since it is more prevalent in Asia. In Singapore, stomach cancer is the 6th most common cancer among Singaporean men and the 8th most common cancer among women. This means that 1 in 50 men will develop stomach cancer in their lifetime.

In addition, stomach cancer usually does not show any symptoms in the early stages. Even when these symptoms are present, doctors do not immediately suspect stomach cancer, especially since these symptoms often go unnoticed by other common diseases that affect the stomach, such as acid reflux and gastritis. By the time the diagnosis is confirmed, the cancer will have already moved to an advanced stage. Therefore, stomach cancer is often called the “silent killer.”

Who is at risk for this cancer and what can be done to prevent it? This article will explain everything you need to know.

How does stomach cancer develop?
The stomach is part of the digestive system and functions to store food. It connects the esophagus to the small intestine and aids digestion. Stomach cancer occurs when cells in the stomach wall continue to grow and divide. Eventually, these cells form clumps and become tumors, and the cancer penetrates deep into the stomach wall.

What are the signs and symptoms of stomach cancer?
As mentioned earlier, stomach cancer does not show any significant signs or symptoms in the early stages. When they come into force, they will include:

Pain in the upper abdomen
Loss of appetite
Unexplained weight loss
Frequent indigestion and heartburn
Feeling very full after eating
Caught in the wind, always whining
Constant stomach pain
Black or bloody stools
As you can see, these symptoms are very similar to other disorders and are not very special. Therefore, it is important to see a doctor if any of the above symptoms appear, especially if they recur.

Who is at risk for stomach cancer?
You are at risk of developing stomach cancer if:

Family history of gastric cancer
Most gastric cancers are sporadic, but about 10% of cases run in families. People with stomach cancer are three times more likely to have a family history of cancer, the highest risk among adults other than ovarian cancer, the study found.
History of Helicobacter pylori infection
I wrote a more detailed article about Helicobacter pylori, but basically, people with Helicobacter pylori infection have a higher risk of developing stomach ulcers and cancer. This risk is higher if you are male and older than 55.
Past history of gastric lymphoma and gastric polyps
Most types of polyps do not increase the risk of stomach cancer, but sometimes adenomatous polyps can turn into cancer.
Long-term chronic gastritis
A diet high in salty and processed foods
Low fiber diet
In addition, men aged 55 and older and smokers are at greatest risk.

How is stomach cancer diagnosed in Singapore?
There are several ways to detect stomach cancer. I usually perform diagnostic tests such as gastroscopy, biopsy and/or CT scan, upper GI series, PET scan or MRI. A gastroscopy allows the patient to see the esophagus, stomach, and upper small intestine. I will also take a biopsy (tissue sample) and send it to a lab to check for cancer.

If cancer is found, diagnostic imaging, such as an X-ray, is done to determine the location and size of the tumor.

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