Also known as gastrointestinal cancer or stomach cancer, gastric cancer is any type of cancerous tumor that develops in the lining of the stomach. If not identified in the early stages, the cancer can begin to metastasize, spreading quickly to the small intestine and even to the esophagus. There is also danger of the gastric cancer moving through the walls of the stomach into the abdomen and affecting such organs as the pancreas, colon, and liver. As with all forms of cancer, gastric cancer can spread to other parts of the body that are not in the general area of the abdomen, including the lungs.
In the earliest stages, gastric cancer rarely exhibits any outward symptoms. As the disease progresses, there may be discomfort in the abdomen that seems to come and go, gradually intensifying with each subsequent episode. A sense of fatigue may begin to accompany the discomfort, and a sense of being bloated after a meal is not unusual. Blood may begin to appear in the stool, especially after a bout with constipation or diarrhea.
There are several tests that can help identify the presence of gastric cancer in the stomach and the surrounding organs. One common approach is to conduct what is known as a fecal occult blood test, which detects blood in the stool. A complete blood count can be used to measure the balance of white and red blood cells in the stomach tissue, along with identifying the concentration of platelets in the area. With an upper GI series, the patient swallows a liquid form of barium that coats the interior of the stomach and the esophagus. This makes it possible to use X-rays to identify the presence of any cancerous masses in the stomach lining or in the immediate area.
Treatments for gastric cancer include the use of chemotherapy, radiation therapy, or surgery. Depending on the severity of the cancer when it is first diagnosed, a physician may elect to try non-invasive treatments before resorting to surgery. This may involve a series of radiation in conjunction with chemotherapy, or employing one of the two treatments individually, then assessing the effect on the cancer.
In situations where the gastric cancer is advanced, a surgical procedure known as a gastrectomy is often the most prudent course of treatment. The procedure involves the removal of all or at least a portion of the stomach. During the gastrectomy, it may become apparent that sections of surrounding organs may also have to be removed, including a portion of the esophagus. Even if the surgery appears to be successful, many surgeons will recommend a follow-up series of radiation therapy to ensure all the cancerous cells are destroyed.