A gastric neoplasm is a tumor that develops in the stomach. This type of abnormal growth could be a harmless, benign tumor or a cancer. Benign tumors of the stomach are relatively rare and most are fleshy growths known as polyps. Cancerous, or malignant, tumors are becoming less common, but death rates remain high because they often remain undetected until the cancer is advanced. In some cases, a non-cancerous gastric neoplasm has the potential to transform into a malignant tumor, so both benign and malignant tumors may require surgical removal.
Statistically, a malignant gastric neoplasm is more likely to occur in an elderly person, while benign growths are associated with a range of different age groups. Most benign tumors cause no symptoms, although occasionally pain and bleeding may occur, and a large tumor could block the stomach outlet. Symptoms of cancer, or malignancy, are often absent in the early stages. Later, nausea and vomiting, indigestion, bloody stools or vomit, and swallowing difficulties may be experienced. Weight loss and decreased appetite may also occur, and the stomach may feel enlarged.
The different types of benign gastric neoplasm may have different causes, but the development of malignant neoplasia is associated with factors such as diet, smoking, previous stomach operations and infection with the bacterium H. pylori. Diets which include plenty of vegetables and fruit are thought to protect against stomach cancer, while high levels of pickled, salted and smoked foods are associated with an increased risk. Smoking raises the chance of developing a cancerous gastric neoplasm, in direct relation to the number of cigarettes smoked. H. pylori infections are known to cause stomach inflammation and this could be one reason for their association with gastric cancer. Surgery is thought to alter the acidity of the stomach, which could cause normal cells to transform into neoplastic cells.
Most benign gastric tumors are treated by surgical removal. In many cases this can be carried out through a long thin instrument known as an endoscope, which is inserted down the esophagus and into the stomach. A camera attached to the device relays images to the surgeon and miniature surgical tools are used to cut out the tumor. Malignant gastric neoplasms are more likely to be treated by surgically removing the whole stomach. The outlook following the operation is often poor, with only a few patients achieving a cure while the majority experience a recurrence of their disease.