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Detecting Stomach Cancer Early: Know the Symptoms

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Dr. Shishir Shah

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is a relatively rare but formidable adversary in the realm of cancer. Understanding the symptoms and risk factors associated with stomach cancer can pave the way for timely intervention, potentially saving lives. Stomach cancer is often referred to as the “silent threat” because it can develop gradually without showing noticeable symptoms in its early stages. This makes early detection challenging but not impossible. By recognizing the potential warning signs and understanding the risk factors, individuals can take proactive steps to seek medical attention when necessary.
Common Symptoms
Persistent Indigestion: Indigestion or dyspepsia is a common early symptom of stomach cancer. It may include discomfort or a burning sensation in the upper abdomen, bloating, and belching. These symptoms often lead individuals to believe they have a common digestive issue, delaying their visit to a healthcare provider.
Unexplained Weight Loss: Sudden and unexplained weight loss can be a warning sign of various health issues, including stomach cancer. When combined with other symptoms, such as poor appetite, it becomes a significant cause for concern.
Abdominal Pain: Ongoing or severe abdominal pain, particularly in the upper abdomen, can be an indicator of stomach cancer. This pain may be persistent and not alleviated with over-the-counter medications.
Nausea and Vomiting: Stomach cancer can cause persistent nausea, which may lead to vomiting. If you experience vomiting blood or have persistent vomiting episodes, this is a severe symptom that requires immediate medical attention.
Blood in Stools or Black Stools: Stomach cancer can lead to gastrointestinal bleeding, which may result in the passage of dark, tarry stools (melena) or bloody stools. These symptoms should not be ignored.
Difficulty Swallowing: Dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing, is another alarming sign. It may indicate that a tumor is obstructing the passage of food through the esophagus.
Risk Factors
Understanding the risk factors for stomach cancer can help identify individuals who may be at higher risk and should be particularly vigilant about symptoms and early detection:

  1. Age: Stomach cancer is more common in older individuals, with the majority of cases diagnosed in people over 65.
  2. Family History: A family history of stomach cancer can increase the risk. Some hereditary conditions, such as hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC), also elevate the likelihood of developing the disease.
  3. Helicobacter pylori Infection: This bacterium is known to cause chronic gastritis and is associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer.
  4. Diet: A diet high in smoked, pickled, or salty foods, as well as a lack of fruits and vegetables, can contribute to stomach cancer risk.
  5. Tobacco and Alcohol Use: Smoking and heavy alcohol consumption have been linked to an increased risk of stomach cancer.
  6. Previous Stomach Surgery: Individuals who have undergone stomach surgery, such as gastric bypass, may be at an elevated risk.
    Early Detection and Screening
    Given the stealthy nature of stomach cancer, early detection can be challenging. However, individuals with risk factors or persistent symptoms should not hesitate to seek medical attention. Diagnostic tests may include endoscopy, CT scans, and biopsies to confirm the presence of cancer.
    Early detection is a crucial weapon in the battle against stomach cancer. Being aware of the symptoms and risk factors associated with this disease can empower individuals to seek timely medical care, potentially improving their prognosis and quality of life. It is essential to remember that many of the symptoms mentioned can be caused by conditions other than stomach cancer. Nonetheless, anyone experiencing persistent or concerning symptoms should consult for a proper evaluation and guidance on further testing if necessary.
    (The writer is Consultant- Surgical Oncology, HCG Cancer Centre, Vadodara)
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