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Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer begins when cancer cells form in the inner lining of your stomach. These cells can grow into a tumor. Also called gastric cancer, the disease usually grows slowly over many years.

If you know the symptoms it causes, you and your doctor may be able to spot it early, when it’s easiest to treat.

What Causes Stomach Cancer?

Scientists don’t know exactly what makes cancer cells start growing in the stomach. But they do know a few things that can raise your risk for the disease. One of them is infection with a common bacteria, H. pylori, which causes ulcers. Inflammation in your gut called gastritis, long-lasting anemia, and growths in your stomach called polyps also can make you more likely to get cancer.

Other things that seem to play a role in raising the risk include:

  • Smoking
  • Being overweight or obese
  • A diet high in smoked, pickled, or salty foods
  • Stomach surgery for an ulcer
  • Type-A blood
  • Epstein-Barr virus infection
  • Certain genes
  • Working in coal, metal, timber, or rubber industries
  • Exposure to asbestos

Symptoms

Early on, stomach cancer may cause:

Just having indigestion or heartburn after a meal doesn’t mean you have cancer. But if you feel these symptoms a lot, talk to your doctor. He can see if you have other risk factors and test you to look for any problems.

As stomach tumors grow, you may have more serious symptoms, such as:

Getting a Diagnosis

Your doctor will give you a physical exam. He'll also ask about your medical history to see if you have any risk factors for stomach cancer or any family members who’ve had it. Then, he might give you some tests, including:

  • Blood tests to look for signs of cancer in your body.
  • Upper endoscopy. Your doctor will put a thin, flexible tube with a small camera down your throat to look into your stomach.
  • Upper GI series test. You’ll drink a chalky liquid with a substance called barium. The fluid coats your stomach and makes it show up more clearly on X-rays.
  • CT scan . This is a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures of the inside of your body.
  • Biopsy . Your doctor takes a small piece of tissue from your stomach to look at under a microscope for signs of cancer cells. He might do this during an endoscopy.

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