We all get stomach aches from time to time, but pain is usually not the first symptom of stomach cancer.
So what should be considered instead?
General surgeon Daniel Joyce, MBBCh, shares what symptoms you may experience and when to see your doctor.
What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, affects your stomach. Located in the upper part of your abdomen (gastrointestinal or GI tract), your stomach digests the food you eat. Stomach cancer occurs when abnormal cells grow in the stomach.
Over the past 10 years, doctors have seen a decline in the incidence of stomach cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, stomach cancer accounts for about 1.5 percent of all new cancer diagnoses in the United States each year.
The main reason for the decrease is that Helicobacter pylori infection, a type of bacteria known as H. pylori, is being diagnosed earlier than before. H. pylori causes chronic inflammation of the gastric mucosa, as well as ulcers, and is considered one of the main causes of gastric cancer.
“Now we can diagnose H. pylori and treat patients with antibiotics when they are symptomatic, killing the infection and reducing the overall risk of stomach cancer,” explained Dr. Joyce.
But he warns that a particular type of stomach cancer called gastroesophageal nodular adenocarcinoma is on the rise. This cancer starts in the esophagus, the tube that connects your mouth to your stomach.
Dr. Joyce said, “There is an obesity problem in the United States. “This causes more acid reflux into the esophagus, which leads to a condition called Barrett’s esophagus, which can eventually lead to cancer.”
Early warning signals
The early symptoms of stomach cancer are usually not noticed because there are no special symptoms.
Stomach cancer is one such complex diagnosis. Most people may experience symptoms, but they are often not obvious. These symptoms can be confused with many other benign (non-malignant) gastrointestinal (GI) disorders.
When stomach cancer is finally diagnosed, these symptoms are not considered normal GI problems and occur in most people.
But there are some early warning signs:
Your stomach may feel bloated and tight, says Dr. Joyce.
“Gastric cancer makes the stomach wall very hard and reduces its ability to retain food,” he notes. “When stomach cancer spreads to the lining of the abdomen, it can cause fluid to build up in the abdomen.”
This can cause you to bloat so much that you look like you’re nine months pregnant.
Has anyone not had a heart attack, especially after a night of hot wings and pizza?
Heartburn with burning in the chest and upper throat is common, says Dr. Joyce, and is usually nothing to worry about.
But if you have persistent heartburn that doesn’t go away with antacids or other medications, there may be cause for concern.
“If there’s a lot of cancer at the exit point of the stomach, fluid can accumulate and the path of least resistance may be up the esophagus/esophagus,” says Dr. Joyce.
Nausea and vomiting
Another sign of a growth blocking the bowel? Feelings of nausea and even vomiting.
The food you eat and the fluids you drink cannot reach the first part of the intestine, the duodenum.
Dr. Joyce said, “Once you eat, you have nowhere to go. “It sends a signal to your brain that makes you feel nauseous.”