What is the stomach?
The stomach is part of your digestive system. It is a hollow organ shaped like a bag that goes from the end of your oesophagus to the start of your small bowel. In the stomach, glands make chemicals, such as enzymes and acids, to help break down food. The stomach lining also makes a type of protein called intrinsic factor. This helps to absorb vitamin B12 into your bloodstream needed by red blood cells and your nervous system.
What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer is also known as gastric cancer. It happens when cells in the stomach change and start to grow quickly. They can then form a tumour. A malignant tumour is also known as cancer. The tumour can affect how the stomach works and cause problems for you. There are also different types of stomach cancer. Adenocarcinoma is the most common type and is found in the gland cells of the stomach.
How common is stomach cancer ?
Stomach cancer can occur in both men and women. Each year about 455 new cases of stomach cancer are diagnosed in Ireland.
The symptoms of stomach cancer are like those of other stomach problems. They may include any of the following:
- Ongoing indigestion, heartburn or burping
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Feeling full or bloated after eating
- Feeling sick or vomiting
- Poor appetite and weight loss
- Nagging stomach pain
- Blood in your bowel movements
These symptoms can also be due to diseases other than stomach cancer. But do get them checked out by your doctor, especially if they go on for more than 4–6 weeks.
If you have any of the above symptoms, get them checked out by your doctor. But remember they can occur in many conditions other than cancer.
Testing for stomach cancer when you have no symptoms is called screening. There is no screening programme for stomach cancer. Your GP will refer you to a specialist if he or she is concerned about you. Your doctor will also keep a closer eye on you if you have Barrett’s oesophagus or polyps.
First visit your family doctor (GP) if you are worried about any symptoms. If your GP is concerned, he or she will refer you to a hospital. There you will see a specialist who may arrange more tests. You may need some of the following tests:
Endoscopy: This is a long tube with a light and camera inside. The doctor will pass the endoscope tube down your throat and into your stomach to examine it and take samples of any unusual-looking areas.
Endoscopic ultrasound: This is like an endoscopy but it also uses sound waves to examine your stomach.
Barium meal: A barium meal is a special X-ray test. Before the test, you drink a white chalky liquid that shows up on the X-rays. It can help to show any abnormal areas.
- Blood tests
- CT scan
- Ultrasound scan
- PET scan
Some of the above scans can help to stage the cancer. This means finding out the size of the cancer and if it has spread anywhere else. This can help your doctor decide on the right treatment for you.