Is it Stomach Cancer? 6 Signs & Symptoms
While stomach cancer represents less than 2 percent of new cancer cases in the United States, the five-year survival rate for this type of cancer is just 30.4 percent. The good news? When stomach cancer is detected before it has a chance to spread, 66.7 percent of those diagnosed are still alive at the five-year mark. Here are six signs and symptoms of stomach cancer to be aware of that can increase your chances for early diagnosis and treatment.
Common Signs of Stomach Cancer
Those who develop stomach cancer may experience any combination of the following:
- Unexplained weight loss
- A bloated or full feeling after eating, even if only a few bites of food have been consumed
- Frequent nausea or indigestion
- Other types of stomach pain
- Poor appetite
Sometimes, the disease causes no symptoms in its early stages. As it progresses, signs of the cancer may include:
- Blood in the stool
- Trouble swallowing
- Diarrhea or constipation
- A feeling of weakness
- Severe, persistent heartburn, indigestion, nausea, or vomiting
- Swelling abdomen
What to Do Next
If you’re experiencing the symptoms described above, the first step is to see your doctor. He or she will first rule out any other conditions that could be causing similar symptoms. This involves a physical exam as well as a medical history, where the doctor will evaluate your risk factors for stomach cancer and other conditions. It’s important to answer questions about your habits honestly, since lifestyle factors like smoking, drinking, and diet play a big role in cancer risk. Common tests for stomach cancer include:
- Upper endoscopy, in which the doctor places a thin, flexible tube with a tiny camera down your throat and into your stomach to look for growths or other abnormalities that could be causing your symptoms.
- Upper GI test, in which you drink a substance called barium before an X-ray to allow structures within the body to show up more clearly on the image.
- Biopsy, in which a small piece of tissue is taken from the stomach and tested in the lab for cancer cells. A biopsy can often be done in conjunction with upper endoscopy.
Stomach Cancer Prevention
If you’re concerned about your risk for stomach cancer, making lifestyle changes can help lower your risk. Those who have a family history of this type of cancer are at higher risk for the disease. In addition, the following steps can help lower your risk for this type of cancer:
- Treat ulcers and stomach infections. If you’re prone to these conditions, have them checked out and treated promptly. Left alone, they can cause inflammation and sores that make you prone to the pre-cancerous cell changes that lead to stomach cancer.
- Quit smoking. The use of tobacco doubles your risk for stomach cancer compared to people who don’t smoke.
- Change your diet. Make sure to get plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables each day. Avoid smoked meats, salted and cured meats, and pickled foods, which make you more likely to develop stomach cancer.