The stomach is a hollow, balloon-like organ in the gastrointestinal tract (the system in multicellular animals that allows them to consume, break down, and extract nutrients from food). In gastrointestinal system, the stomach serves as the second phase of digestion, after mastication (chewing). Its primary function is to kill ingested bacteria and break down food into smaller pieces before it is sent into the intestines. Breaking the food into smaller pieces not only allows it to pass more easily through the intestines, but it exposed more surface area on the food, making the process of extracting nutrients more efficient.
When cells displaying uncontrolled growth, invasion, and/or metastasis arise in the stomach, a cancer may develop. These cells, having undergone an anomalous transformation that causes them to proliferate abnormally, form a structure called a neoplasm. If this neoplasm destroys adjacent tissues, and/or spreads to other areas of the body, a cancer is formed. Stomach cancers have a strong tendency to spread to other organs throughout the body; particularly to the lungs, liver, and esophagus.
Worldwide, stomach cancer is the fourth most common cancer. In the Western World, the cancer has been on the decline for many years, posing a less significant risk to societal health. Elsewhere, however, it is often the leading cause of cancer death. Stomach cancer is particularly deadly in parts of the world where refrigeration is uncommon. In these regions, food is usually preserved through smoking, pickling, and/or salting methods. Each of these methods results in food that is potentially harmful to the stomach. It should be noted that several advanced societies also report high numbers of stomach cancer cases. The Japanese diet, for example, contains large amounts of salt and carcinogens. Their use of salt is the result of ancient salting techniques that have worked their way into the modern palette. The carcinogens are the aftereffect of foods being cooked at extremely high temperatures; thus, the charring effect that makes Japanese food desirable to so many people around the world.
Stomach Cancer Risk Factors
- Age: Most stomach cancers occur in people over the age of 50.
- Gender: Men are twice as likely to develop a stomach cancer than women.
- Tobacco Use: Tobacco smokers are twice as likely to develop a stomach cancer than non-smokers.
- Diet: Smoked, pickled and salted foods drastically increase a person’s likelihood of developing a stomach cancer. Nitrites and nitrates also elevate stomach cancer risk. Foods such as ham, bacon, and many processed meats contain high levels of these substances.
- Stomach Surgery: People that have had all or part of their stomach removed are more likely to develop a stomach cancer. Such operations result in a stomach that is less able to produce protective agents like bile. This can result in the excessive buildup of harmful bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Obesity: Research has indicated that obesity plays a role in the development of many cancers, including stomach cancer. More than likely, this is the result of the unhealthy lifestyle that many obese individuals lead.
- Stomach Polyps: Most benign growths, or polyps, in the stomach are non-cancerous and pose no serious threat to the patient. Some polyps, however, are the predecessors of malignant neoplasms, or cancers.
- Family History: People with parents or siblings with stomach cancers are more likely to develop the disease.
- Type A Blood: People with type A blood are more likely to develop a stomach cancer. The role that blood cancer has on cancer development is unclear, but statistics have revealed this predominance.
Stomach Cancer Outlook
If a stomach cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, before it has spread through the stomach’s wall or into other areas if the body, then curative surgical resection is often possible. Unfortunately, most stomach cancers do not present any symptoms until they have metastasized into other tissues and organs. Advanced stomach cancers can still be treated, bust such treatments are usually palliative (aimed at preserving a good quality of life for as long as possible).
Stomach Cancer Prevention
- Eat Fruits and Vegetables: Fruits and vegetables rich in vitamin C and beta carotene are power, anti-cancer foods that will contribute to good overall health. Deep green, yellow, and orange fruits and vegetables are generally high in these nutrients. Additionally, the consumption of cabbages, strawberries, red bell peppers, broccolis, and various sprouts is conducive to good stomach health.
- Avoid Bacon, Ham, and Processed Meats: These meats are high in nitrites and nitrates, which are harmful to the stomach and may lead to cancer development. By all means, enjoy your mother’s holiday pork roast; just eat such food in moderation.
- Quit Smoking, or Don’t Start: If you are a smoker, talk to your healthcare provider about treatments, therapies, and social networks that can help you quit. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. Smoking tobacco is a premeditated form of chemical exposure. Certain industries necessitate that individuals interact with harmful chemicals. Smoking, however, is a choice. It is one of the grand paradoxes of human health and behavior.
- Consume Alcohol in Moderation: Alcohol has been shown to cause cellular mutations that may lead to cancer. The moderate consumption of certain alcoholic beverages, such as wine, can contribute to good overall health and happiness.
- Limit the Consumption of Smoked, Pickled, and Salted Foods: These foods have all been shown to contribute to the development of stomach cancer. Eat them in moderation.