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.
Stomach cancer in stage I and II is treatable with surgery supported by chemo and radiation. Once into stage III, chances of survival drop significantly. This is because stage III cancer has already spread deep into the stomach and surrounding tissues and other organs. Patient comfort then becomes the treatment goal. Dietary modifications, surgery and insertion of stents are required as cancer progresses. In many cases, parts or the whole of the stomach and intestine have to be removed. Nutrition then has to be administered intravenously. The cost and care involved are huge and patients suffering high.
Some of the newer treatments for stomach cancer being adapted include intensive chemotherapy by literally soaking the organs in the chemicals! Proven statistics for the success of such treatments are few and hard to compile. But the desperation of patients and their families in going for such options is understandable.