Gastric Cancer: Overview, Symptoms, Treatment, and Prevention

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Gastric Cancer: Understanding, Symptoms, Diagnosis, and Treatment

Gastric cancer, also known as stomach cancer, is a malignant tumor that develops in the stomach lining. It is the fifth leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide, with an estimated 1 million new cases diagnosed each year. While the incidence of gastric cancer has declined in recent decades, it remains a significant global health concern.

Risk Factors

Several factors can increase the risk of developing gastric cancer, including:

  • Helicobacter pylori infection: This bacteria is the most common risk factor for gastric cancer. It causes chronic inflammation in the stomach lining, which can eventually damage the cells and lead to cancer.
  • Diet: A diet high in processed meats, red meats, and salty or smoked foods has been linked to an increased risk of gastric cancer. Conversely, a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains may provide some protection.
  • Smoking: Smoking cigarettes increases the risk of gastric cancer by damaging the stomach lining and reducing the body’s immune response.
  • Heavy alcohol consumption: Excessive alcohol intake can irritate the stomach lining, increasing the risk of cancer.
  • Obesity: Being overweight or obese can increase the risk of gastric cancer.
  • Family history: Individuals with a family history of gastric cancer are at an increased risk of developing the disease.
  • Certain genetic mutations: Some inherited genetic mutations, such as the CDH1 and TP53 mutations, can significantly increase the risk of gastric cancer.


Early-stage gastric cancer often does not cause any noticeable symptoms. As the cancer progresses, it may cause a variety of symptoms, including:

  • Persistent heartburn or indigestion
  • Abdominal discomfort or pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite and weight loss
  • Difficulty swallowing or feeling full quickly
  • Fatigue and weakness
  • Blood in the stool or vomit
  • Swollen lymph nodes in the neck or armpits


Diagnosing gastric cancer involves multiple steps:

  • Medical history and physical examination: The doctor will take a detailed medical history, including family history, symptoms, and lifestyle factors. They will also perform a physical examination to check for any signs of cancer, such as lumps or enlarged lymph nodes.
  • Endoscopy: This procedure involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera attached into the stomach to visualize the stomach lining and look for any abnormalities.
  • Biopsy: If any suspicious areas are observed during endoscopy, the doctor may take a biopsy by removing a small tissue sample for microscopic examination.
  • Imaging tests: Computed tomography (CT) or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans may be performed to determine the extent of the cancer and assess the surrounding structures.


Once gastric cancer is diagnosed, the doctor will determine its stage using the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC) staging system. The stage of the cancer indicates the size and location of the tumor, whether it has spread to nearby lymph nodes or other organs, and the patient’s overall health. The staging system ranges from Stage 0 (confined to the stomach) to Stage IV (advanced, with metastases to distant organs).


The treatment options for gastric cancer depend on the stage of the disease and the patient’s overall health. The main treatment modalities include:

  • Surgery: Surgery is the primary treatment for early-stage gastric cancer. The type of surgery performed depends on the location and size of the tumor.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It can be given before or after surgery, or as a standalone treatment.
  • Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to shrink and destroy cancer cells. It can be used in combination with surgery and chemotherapy.
  • Targeted therapy: Targeted therapy drugs are designed to specifically block the growth and spread of cancer cells by targeting specific proteins or pathways involved in cancer development.
  • Immunotherapy: Immunotherapy drugs boost the body’s immune system to fight cancer cells.
  • Palliative care: Palliative care focuses on relieving symptoms and improving the quality of life for patients with advanced gastric cancer that cannot be cured.


The prognosis of gastric cancer depends on several factors, including the stage of the disease at diagnosis, the patient’s overall health, and the type of treatment received. The 5-year survival rate for all stages of gastric cancer combined is approximately 31.5%. For early-stage cancer detected and treated before it spreads beyond the stomach, the 5-year survival rate can be as high as 90%. However, the prognosis is significantly worse for advanced stages of the disease.


While there is no surefire way to prevent gastric cancer, certain lifestyle modifications can reduce the risk:

  • Get tested for Helicobacter pylori: If infected, receive prompt treatment to eradicate the bacteria.
  • Adopt a healthy diet: Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Limit processed meats, red meats, and salty or smoked foods.
  • Quit smoking: Smoking increases the risk of gastric cancer and negatively impacts overall health.
  • Reduce alcohol intake: Heavy alcohol consumption can damage the stomach lining and increase the risk of cancer.
  • Maintain a healthy weight: Obesity is linked to an increased risk of gastric cancer.
  • Consult a genetic counselor: Individuals with a family history of gastric cancer may consider genetic testing to assess their risk and make informed decisions about preventive measures.


Gastric cancer is a serious health condition that can have significant consequences. Understanding the risk factors, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment options is crucial for early detection and prompt management. By adopting preventive measures, such as maintaining a healthy lifestyle and managing risk factors, individuals can reduce their risk of developing this disease. Continuous research and advancements in treatment strategies offer hope for improved outcomes and better quality of life for patients affected by gastric cancer.

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