We return to our series on cancer with this feature on stomach cancer, the second most common form of cancer in the world. It affects the stomach and can spread to adjoining organs like the esophagus, lungs and liver.
Causes and risk factors:
Theories abound about the causes of this very common cancer. Considering the variety of items we expose our stomach to, it is tempting to postulate dietary habits as risk factors, if not causes of the disease. Smoked meats for example are thought to play a role in the development of this cancer. The exceptionally high prevalence of this cancer in specific populations such as Mongolians who consume a lot of smoked meat supports the food theory. Another causative agent you will find mentioned very often is the bacterium Helicobacter Pylori. This meddlesome creature is also thought to cause persistent acidity leading to stomach ulcers. Men are more likely than women and smokers more likely than non-smokers to develop this cancer. Copious alcohol consumption also increases risk. Heredity is believed to play a part in almost 10% of all cases.
Symptoms may be absent in early stages or can be indistinguishable from routine gastric disturbances. If loss of appetite and abdominal pain persists for more than month, a doctor should be consulted. If detected early, the condition can be treated. But generally, the prognosis is poor. This is because we have learned to ignore symptoms such as acidity, indigestion and bloating.