The stomach is part of the digestive system. Its role is to receive and break down food, storing it and releasing it periodically into the intestine for further digestion. Most stomach cancers develop in the lining of the stomach called the mucosa. Stomach cancer can grow through the stomach’s layers and into organs near it like the liver, pancreas and colon, or it can spread through the lymphatic system or bloodstream to other parts of the body. In Singapore, it is the 7th most common cancer in men and the 9th most common in women, according to the Singapore Cancer Registry Interim Annual Report "Trends in Cancer Incidence in Singapore" 2010-2014..

Risk factors for stomach cancer

  1. A family history of stomach cancer.
  2. Chronic Helicobacter pylori infection.
  3. Helicobacter pylori is a germ that is sometimes found in the stomach and is associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer.
  4. Pernicious anaemia – a rare blood disorder.
  5. Previous stomach surgery with partial removal of the stomach.
  6. Frequent consumption of preserved or smoked foods such as salted vegetables, fish and meat. The cooking of such foods releases toxic substances called nitrosamines which are cancer causing.
  7. Smoking.

Signs & symptoms of stomach cancer

  1. Unexplained weight loss and loss of appetite.
  2. Discomfort or mild pain over the upper abdomen.
  3. A sense of fullness or stomach bloating after a small meal.
  4. Persistent heartburn or indigestion.
  5. Constant belching, nausea and vomiting.
  6. Tiredness.
  7. Blood in the stools.
  8. Blackish and very foul smelling stools.
  9. Pallor.

Stomach cancer seldom exhibits symptoms. Early detection is therefore difficult.

These symptoms may be caused by a number of problems and may not indicate the presence of cancer; but if any of the above symptoms persists, or bothers you, do consult your doctor.

Screening for stomach cancer

Screening for stomach cancer is currently not recommended.

Treatment for stomach cancer

Treatment options for stomach cancer include:

  1. Surgery, ranging from endoscopic mucosal resection to gastrectomy,
  2. Chemotherapy or
  3. Radiation therapy.

Ref: S13