Symptoms and causes

Possible causes

Regular consumption of fruit and vegetables appears to reduce the risk of stomach cancer. On the other hand, eating preserved and salted foods appears to increase the risk.

An infection with Helicobacter pylori also increases the risk of stomach cancer. However, millions of people are infected with this bacterium, and most of them never develop stomach cancer. Other factors, therefore, must also be taken into account.

Moreover, people who smoke are twice as at risk as non-smokers. Alcohol consumption further increases the risk among smokers.

Studies have shown that people with a higher BMI also have an increased risk of developing cancer in the upper portion of the stomach. After all, obesity increases the risk of acid reflux, which in turn increases the risk of stomach cancer.

Symptoms

The first symptoms of stomach cancer are often acid regurgitations, 'burping' and a feeling of fullness. Most people with stomach cancer have experienced these symptoms for several years, but did not perceive them as alarming. These vague symptoms are the reason for many late diagnoses. More advanced symptoms of stomach cancer include a further loss of appetite, vomiting, blood loss and weight loss.

Diagnosis and treatment

Staging

Once the diagnosis of stomach cancer has been made, it is important to gain the best possible insight into the extent of the disease, particularly by determining the stage of the illness as accurately as possible. This information determines the choice of treatment and the prognosis.

The tumour in the stomach is called the primary tumour. Usually, there is a gradual growth with damage to part of the stomach wall and then the entire wall. When cancer cells become detached from the original tumour and penetrate deep enough to reach the blood and lymph vessels, they can escape and colonise glands. If a loosened lump of cancer cells 'settles' elsewhere in the body, we speak of metastasis. Stomach cancer cells sometimes end up in other organs.

The stage is determined based on a globally used classification, the TNM classification (Tumor Nodus Metastasis classification), which looks at:

  • the extent the tumour has grown through the stomach wall (T)
  • whether or not lymph nodes are affected (N)
  • whether or not there are metastases (M)

Treatment

The treatment of oesophageal cancer is complex and entails a specialised team. The most commonly used treatments are oncological surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy. Clinical trials sometimes offer a solution and provide access to the very latest treatments.

Treatment centres and specialisations

Integrated Cancer Centre in Ghent
Digestive Centre

Latest publication date: 21/01/2021
Supervising author: Dr Vanderstraeten Erik