The stomach is a fickle thing. Everyone has one, and most of us would probably admit that we aren’t taking the best care of it. This November is Stomach Cancer Awareness Month, and there’s no better time to educate ourselves on how to start treating it like the individual organ that it is rather than merely an in-between point in the digestive process. A healthy stomach makes a healthier person, and living life cancer-conscious is the perfect way to achieve that goal.
Stomach cancers generally originate from the mucosal lining, one of three layers, including the serosal and muscularis layers, of the stomach. The innermost of the bunch, the mucosal layer, provides a staging ground for the growth to progress as it increases in size. Lymphoma is also a type that starts in the immune system but can begin anywhere in the body, including the stomach lining. Lymphoma and carcinoid stomach tumors make up a minority of instances, with mucosal-origin types, or adenocarcinomas, responsible for nine out of 10 cases.
Although stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, isn’t nearly as common as breast cancer, it unfortunately is still impactful. An estimated 26,000 Americans will be diagnosed in 2022, with as many as 11,000 deaths expected in the same time frame. It is responsible for under 2% of all cancer diagnoses annually, although the number has consistently declined in the U.S. for the last 10 years.
Gastric cancers affect mainly older demographics. The average age to be diagnosed is 68 in the U.S., with six in 10 being older than 65, according to the American Cancer Society.
However, many develop cancers after years or decades of exposure to various risk factors in earlier adulthood.
Some behavioral risk factors include sustained tobacco use, exposure to dust or fumes, or having diets that are too salt-heavy and lack fruits and vegetables. These factors are in addition to numerous others outside of our control. A family history of gastric or colorectal cancer can indicate elevated risk, as is having type A blood. Individuals who are over 50 or have a history of stomach polyps are also considered vulnerable.
Like with any cancer, early detection is critical for mitigating the impact it might have, which can be challenging with gastric cancer because it typically lacks symptoms. If you experience persistent indigestion, trouble swallowing, or feeling immediately full upon eating, consult your doctor. Screening for those deemed low-risk is not commonly offered in the U.S. However, higher-risk individuals can request an upper endoscopy, which a doctor can order if they consider it necessary. It works like a colonoscopy, with a camera attached to a tube running down the esophagus.