November is Stomach Cancer Awareness Month and while stomach cancer is on the decline in America, it is the fifth most common malignancy in the world. Dr. Josh Vandersteen, Gastroenterologist at our Ridgeline location discussed some FAQs about stomach cancer this month.
What factors increase the risk of developing stomach cancer?
Scientists have found a few risk factors associated with stomach cancer. They include:
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterial infection in the gut leading to inflammation of the stomach’s inner layer
- A diet high in salty, salt-preserved, or smoked foods
- Smoking, which nearly doubles the risk of stomach cancer
Is stomach cancer tied to any specific demographic?
Cases of gastric cancer vary throughout the world but they are much higher in Eastern Asia, particularly Japan and Korea. Dr. Vandersteen states that the epidemiological cause is not necessarily tied to ethnicity, but to the standard diet in these regions.
Between 70-90% of all stomach cancers begin with the H. pylori infection. H pylori is spread through unwashed or undercooked foods, contaminated drinking water, or improper hand washing. Japanese cuisine is characteristically high in salt; while the Korean diet is high in nitrites (used to cure and flavor food and as a preservative for pickled foods like kimchi.) Overconsumption of salt and nitrites are both linked to stomach cancer.
What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer can be hard to catch because the symptoms are non-specific and, in its early stages, there may be no symptoms at all. Dr. Vandersteen urges patients to visit a gastroenterologist if they experience any of these symptoms:
- Unintended weight loss
- Abdominal pain, often above the navel
- Loss of appetite or feeling full after eating very little
Can stomach cancer be prevented?
Early diagnosis is the best way to improve the chance of successful treatment for stomach cancer. If H pylori bacteria is found inside a patient and addressed early, their chance of developing stomach cancer is significantly reduced.
To prevent stomach cancer and other GI conditions, Dr. Vandersteen suggests a few lifestyle changes. If you’re a smoker, quit. Eat a high-fiber diet with diverse fruits and vegetables and limit your consumption of cured and smoked meats.