Stomach cancer is a malignancy that begins in the cells of an individual's stomach, which are the cells responsible for producing mucus. Stomach cancer occurs when damage occurs in the DNA of one of the cells that give it the ability to grow faster, multiply quicker, and live longer. Certain infections, obesity, some inherited conditions, and smoking can increase the risk of stomach cancer. Stomach cancer can be diagnosed through a physical exam, blood tests, upper endoscopy, CT scans, barium swallow x-ray, or stomach biopsy.
Stomach cancer treatment may include surgery to remove the tumor, chemotherapy, targeted therapy, and radiation therapy. A combination of these treatments is necessary to cure stomach cancer. Many patients will also need certain pain medications and other cancer medicines to assist them and make the journey easier.
Stomach Pain And Bloating
An individual affected by stomach cancer may experience pain in their breastbone that worsens after eating. Some patients describe the pain as burning in their upper abdomen, similar to stomach ulcer pain. Others describe stomach cancer pain as more of a persistent gnawing. Some forms of stomach cancer result in a dull ache in the middle of the stomach.
Bloating is most likely to occur in stomach cancer patients after they have consumed a meal. The bloating that occurs in stomach cancer patients may also be attributed to ascites. This refers to an inappropriate accumulation of excess fluid in the pelvis or abdomen. A tumor on the outer layer of the stomach tissue can cause bleeding that may present as ascites. Furthermore, stomach cancer that has spread to neighboring lymph nodes or vessels can cause an accumulation of fluid in the abdomen. This malfunction occurs because cancer cells clog up components of the system responsible for returning excess fluid into circulation.
Full After Small Amounts Of Food
Stomach cancer patients may feel full after they consume even small amounts of food. This symptom may be referred to as early satiety. The mechanism behind this symptom can be anything that disables stomach emptying. For instance, an individual's stomach tumor can take up space near the area where food passes from the stomach into the small intestine, resulting in delayed emptying of the stomach.
A patient with a stomach tumor that compresses the first part of the large intestine can also delay stomach emptying. If an individual's tumor is large enough and spans across the stomach, it can obstruct the normal movement of food from the stomach to the small intestine. Stomach cancer that damages the nerve and muscle tissues responsible for propelling food from the stomach to the small intestine can cause a patient to experience early satiety.
Severe And Persistent Indigestion And Heartburn
Severe and persistent indigestion and heartburn can indicate that an individual has stomach cancer. Many patients affected by certain forms of stomach cancer describe feeling a burning sensation when they swallow food. This feeling becomes concerning and indicative of stomach cancer when it continues for three weeks or longer. Heartburn occurs when acid flows backward into the esophagus and causes pain. It triggers this pain because the esophageal lining does not have the same protective mucus layer.
Cancerous stomach tumors can secrete substances that cause the stomach to produce too much acid. The excess acid and inflammation from the tumor can cause gastric acid to travel back up into the esophagus. A large tumor can take up too much space in an individual's stomach and cause its contents to flow backward into the esophagus. This can trigger heartburn and indigestion. Furthermore, individuals who have chronic heartburn or indigestion initially are more likely to develop stomach cancer than others.
Unexplained Nausea And Vomiting
A cancerous tumor in the stomach can take up room and reduce the space available for food. This can, as mentioned, occur because the tumor impairs the mechanical action of stomach emptying and delays the movement of the food into the small intestine. This mechanism can be painful in some patients. This pain is often relieved by vomiting. Food that cannot move past the stomach can begin to ferment or undergo a chemical break down process in the absence of oxygen.
The environment created during this process is favorable for the growth of harmful bacteria, causing a patient to become nauseous and vomit. Food that sits in the stomach too long can develop into a bezoar or a hard, solid collection. Bezoars can obstruct the gastrointestinal tract, which also results in nausea and vomiting. Furthermore, bleeding from the tumor inside of a patient's stomach can cause it to become irritated and result in vomiting.
Unintended Weight Loss
Unintended weight loss is when an individual loses over ten percent of their body weight for no apparent reason. Several mechanisms can contribute to weight loss in a stomach cancer patient. Appetite loss is a common manifestation in stomach cancer patients due to their early satiety. A stomach tumor can press on an affected individual's intestines, causing them to feel bloated easily.
Unintended weight loss accompanied by severe bloating after consuming food or even just a beverage can indicate stomach cancer. The hunger signals that come from the patient's brain are disrupted or shut down prematurely during the consumption of food, causing them to lose their appetite. Also, cancerous stomach tumors can secrete substances that intercept natural hunger signals. The interrupted signals cause appetite loss and subsequent weight loss.
Blood In The Stool
Stomach cancer can cause damage to the stomach, esophagus, and intestinal linings. The linings of the intestines, stomach, and esophagus are supplied with blood by tiny blood vessels that split open and burst when cancerous cells invade them. Invasive cancerous cells damage blood vessels in the linings and even as deep as the muscular tissues that make up the digestive tract. This damage leaks blood into the contents of the stomach or intestines. None of the blood components are reabsorbed from the stool as it moves through the rest of the intestinal tract. It is excreted in the stool as a result.
When the damage to the blood vessels from cancer occurs in the first parts of the digestive tract, the stool will appear similar to coffee grounds or have a tarry color and consistency. This texture and color are due to the blood having plenty of time to clot while moving through the intestinal tract before being excreted. Bright red blood in stools is rarely caused by stomach cancer, unless it has metastasized to the last segments of the large intestine.
Jaundice is a condition where an individual's skin and white of their eyes develop a yellow tint. Advanced stomach cancer spreads to the liver more often than any other organ. When advanced stomach cancer spreads to the liver tissues, the bile duct can become obstructed from cancerous overgrowth. The liver produces bilirubin from the broken down components and waste from red blood cells.
Bilirubin is synthesized into bile, which moves to the gallbladder and is further concentrated before flowing into the small intestine. An obstructed duct causes bile to back up into the gallbladder, which causes the buildup of bilirubin in the liver. Once both organs are at capacity, the bilirubin spills into the patient's bloodstream and leeches into their skin. Bilirubin has a potent yellow pigment, which is why the buildup causes yellowing of the skin and eyes.
Anemia is a condition where an individual's body does not have enough healthy and functioning red blood cells to meet its demand. Anemia can result from one of many malfunctions in the body. This includes stomach cancer. A stomach cancer patient may have difficulty with the absorption of minerals from the food they eat because the cancerous cells damage the lining of the first segment of their small intestine. Since iron is required to produce red blood cells and diet is an individual's only source of it, an impairment in the absorption of iron in the small intestine can lead to anemia or a shortage of healthy red blood cells.
Anemia can also result from stomach cancer in individuals who have tumors in the stomach or intestine tissues that penetrate the linings and cause widespread damage to the small blood vessels that supply such tissues with blood. Excessive bleeding in the digestive tract can lower the number of healthy red blood cells circulating the patient's body.
There are several ways in which the growth of a tumor in the stomach tissues can result in issues swallowing. The simple mechanical interference of the growing cancerous tissue from the top of the stomach into the esophagus can create a narrower path for food to reach the stomach. Cancerous tissue can grow outside of or into the esophageal tissues, which is where nerves responsible for swallowing are located.
When invasive cancerous tissues damage the nerves, they may not be able to signal to the correct muscles when to contract during swallowing. Cancerous tissues can invade the actual muscle tissues themselves and impair the muscle's ability to contract properly. When a muscle that is vital to swallowing cannot contract, the patient will experience difficulty swallowing.
There are a few reasons why persistent fatigue can develop in stomach cancer patients. Stomach cancer can cause problems and interference with the ability to digest and absorb food properly. When the nutrients and components of food are not digested, they are not absorbed. As a result, they cannot be used for cellular functions and operations. Without nutrients like glucose that come from the food consumed, the cells cannot produce energy for the body.
Another reason why stomach cancer can produce persistent fatigue is that cancerous cells are just like normal cells. They require glucose, oxygen, and other nutrients to carry out their malicious activities. Because cancerous cells multiply and grow out of control, they can consume the glucose and nutrients that healthy cells would otherwise use. When there is a shortage of energy being produced by the healthy cells in the body, the energy produced is relocated to cater to vital organs, instead of the limb muscles. It is this shortage of energy that causes persistent fatigue in stomach cancer patients.