Preventing stomach cancer in advance
The stomach is the first stop in the digestive tract before food and drink passes onwards into the intestines. It is a muscular bean-shaped sack about the size of a fist that is situated at the top of the abdomen. The cells of the stomach lining secrete acidic gastric juices, which mix with ingested food.
Stomach cancer is one of the top four most common cancers worldwide and is a significant problem in China. The estimated five-year survival rate for stomach cancer is less than 30 percent. If diagnosed at an early stage, the chances of being successfully cured are greatly improved, which is why early detection is very important.
Beijing United Family Hospital’s UK gastroenterologist Dr Neil Galletly talks more about the disease and discusses ways people can prevent stomach cancer to keep our stomachs healthy.
How to reduce your risk of stomach cancer?
Cancer prevention – for any cancer – is about taking action to reduce the risk of developing cancer. This usually means implementing changes to your diet or lifestyle. Taking the following actions should reduce your risk of stomach cancer:
First, treat the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori or Hp) infection. H. pylori is a bacterium that colonizes in the lining of the stomach. H. pylori is particularly prevalent in China. It is often picked up in childhood and survives in the acidic environment of the stomach for many years. It will often cause no symptoms although it may cause dyspepsia and indigestion. H. pylori infection can be detected either by a special breath test, a stool test or at gastroscopy. A blood test that looks for antibodies to H. pylori can also be used – however this is less useful as a positive result can mean either that you are infected with H. pylori or that you had an infection in the past that is now cleared. All of these tests, together with H. pylori treatment, are available at the Digestive Disease Center at Beijing United Family Hospitals.
Second, stop smoking. We all know that smoking is bad for us! Smokers have a two-fold increased risk of developing stomach cancer and stopping smoking reduces the risk of stomach cancer over time. Smoking also increases the risk for many other types of cancer, heart disease, chronic lung disease and stroke.
Third, lose weight. Being overweight or obese increases the risk of stomach cancer. On the other hand, being physically active can help lower your risk. Obesity also increases the risk for many other types of cancer, heart disease and diabetes.
The American Cancer Society recommends people to stay at a healthy weight throughout their lives by balancing calorie intake with physical activity. Paying attention to your diet and the foods you eat is another way to reduce the risk.
A high intake of salted, pickled and smoked food can increase your risk of stomach cancer. On the other hand, people should eat plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables as a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables can lower the risk of stomach cancer.
Screening for stomach cancer
Cancer screening is a way of testing healthy people before they develop symptoms to help detect cancer at an early stage. Unlike colon, breast and cervical cancer, very few countries (with the exception of Japan and South Korea) have population screening programs for stomach cancer. If you have risk factors, speak to a gastroenterologist about whether or not you would benefit from regular endoscopic checks for stomach cancer screening.
Stomach cancer signs and symptoms
Early stage stomach cancer rarely causes symptoms, making early detection very difficult. Stomach cancer may present vague gastrointestinal symptoms or may mimic other conditions, such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), gastritis or a peptic ulcer.
Signs and symptoms of stomach cancer can include: a sense of fullness after eating small amounts, discomfort or pain in the upper abdomen, nausea and vomiting and/or bloating after meals, loss of appetite and/or unexplained weight loss, indigestion, heartburn or difficulty swallowing, vomiting blood or blood in the stool, and weakness and fatigue. Most of these symptoms may be caused by things other than stomach cancer. However, don’t ignore your symptoms. If you see blood or if you have these symptoms for more than two or three weeks, especially if they are getting worse, you should see a gastroenterologist for further investigation.
Neil Galletly, Beijing United Family Hospital’s UK gastroenterologist, has over 20 years of clinical experience and specializes in the treatment and diagnosis of gastrointestinal and liver disease.