By Dr. Niti Raizada
Every year, the month of November is marked as “Stomach Cancer Awareness Month” to raise awareness about the condition, the serious risks it involves, and how to prevent it.
Stomach Cancer also called Gastric Cancer, is the third-most common cancer among females in Asia and fifth common cancer worldwide. In India, Stomach Cancer Ranks fifth among males and seventh among females in frequency.
With a high morbidity and mortality rate, Stomach Cancer is a dreaded disease. It is predisposed to several environmental variables including dietary habits, consumption of tobacco and alcohol and Helicobacter pylori infection.
The fact that Stomach Cancer is the third most common cause of cancer death worldwide after lung and colorectal cancers, indicating the disease’s aggressiveness and the need for improved treatment options. High rate of local and distant recurrence is noted in Gastric Cancer, pointing towards the systemic spread of cancer very early in the disease and emphasizes the necessity for multimodality treatment, which includes surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, to cure the condition.
Incidence of Stomach Cancer in Southern and Northeastern states of India:
Sadly, Stomach Cancer is also one of the leading causes of cancer in southern region of India. Also high numbers are reported in Mizoram and other NE states. Its incidence is decreasing worldwide yet on global scale stomach cancer remains one of the most common causes of death due to cancer.
Indian cancer registries are still evolving. Under-reporting and inconsistently reported data makes data compilation and reporting difficult. This may have caused certain inaccuracy of reporting of cancers amongst various states.
Here are some FAQs:
What are the symptoms?
The symptoms of the disease are typically visible only when most patients have reached advanced stages. This leads to 5-year survival levels is less than 30% in developed countries and around 20% in developing countries. Epigastric burning / acidity over a long period of time is often a presentation.
Some symptoms that show in the advanced stage includes poor appetite, weight loss, abdominal pain, heartburn/ indigestion, nausea, vomiting (with or without blood), jaundice etc, to name a few.
What causes stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer or gastric cancer is a complex illness and can be caused through both genetic as well as environmental factors.
What are some of the environmental factors?
● Helicobacter pylori (H.Pylori) infection, frequently acquired since childhood and persists unless removed, is a key environmental factor at play. Gastritis, intestinal metaplasia, dysplasia, and ultimately Gastric Cancer are all possible long term effects of H. pylori infection.
● Smoking is a significant behavioural risk factor. The incidence of Gastric Cancer is higher in men and women who smoke compared to nonsmokers by 60% and 20%, respectively, according to a major systematic analysis research. Smoking intensifies the carcinogenic implications of the H. pylori infection.
● Diet is a significant additional risk factor for the development of Stomach Cancer. Consuming healthy quantities of fruits and vegetables regularly lowers the likelihood of getting Stomach Cancer. On the other hand, salt consumption, excess pickled and smoked food is significantly linked to an increased risk of developing Stomach Cancer.
What are the hereditary factors and how it adds to the risk?
It is estimated that 10% of people with Stomach Cancer have a family history of the disease. According to epidemiological research, there is a 2-3 fold increase in the risk of Gastric Cancer in the general population when there are first-degree relatives who have any history of Stomach Cancer. However, the underlying genetic reason for the vast majority of these people is still unknown. One to three per cent of Gastric Cancers are caused by CDH1, the most significant cancer susceptibility gene.
Numerous families demonstrating an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern and having intestinal-type Gastric Cancer have been identified. Besides, some hereditary cancer syndromes have been linked to an increased risk of developing both diffuse and intestinal-type Gastric Cancer.
Can diet help in reducing the risk of stomach cancer?
Dietary changes with lower salt intake is a must. It is necessary to avoid excess salt-based food preservation as they are crucial in reducing the chances of Stomach Cancer. In some studies, smoked meat and fish, pickled vegetables, and chilli peppers have also been linked to Stomach Cancer. Alcohol consumption has been investigated in many populations. The results, however, are concerning.
Which age group is highly affected?
This type of cancer mostly affects older people. On an average, 6 out of 10 patients diagnosed with stomach cancer are above 65 years of age. Men have a higher lifetime risk of having stomach cancer than women.
(The author is a Director – Medical Oncology and Hemato-Oncology, Fortis Hospitals, Bangalore. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of the FinancialExpress.com.)