The stomach cancer usually begins as an ulcer on the stomach mucosa. However, that does not mean that you will inevitabley get cancer if you have a stomach ulcer; the likelihood of that is very small. It is not known why a small number of stomach ulcers become cancerous. Like all types of cancer, malignant cells can be metastasized, i.e. spread to other organs (e.g. on lungs or liver).
The first symptoms are so subtle that a patient does not even notice them; for example, an indeterminate feeling of bad digestion – discomfort and occasional vomiting – accompanied by loss of appetite. As the disease progresses, there may be severe pain in the upper abdominal cavity, weight loss, frequent vomiting as well as signs of prolonged bleeding (see the article anemia), or traces of blood in the barf and in the stool (feces).
In Croatia, stomach cancer is in second place by frequency. It is twice more common in men, and the chances increase with age. It is the most common between ages 60 and 69 in men, and between ages 70 and 79 in women.
If the stomach cancer is too advanced to be removed it will not be possible to cure it with any therapy, although the symptoms can be alleviated with medications through many years.
What to do?
If you got the symptoms of a poor digestion for the first time in your life, or if the usual signs of poor digestion suddenly change, contact your doctor immediately. Long-lasting stomach ulcer – although this is not the case with a duodenal ulcer – may sometimes develop into stomach cancer, and this is one of the reasons why doctors recommend surgical removal of stomach ulcer. If, along with a poor digestion, you find that you have lost the appetite, and this lasts for more than two or three days, do not forget to tell this to your doctor who will, with regard to the possibility of stomach cancer, send you to the hospital for endoscopy, barium meal and, probably, a stomach biopsy.
Self-help: if you have a poor digestion associated with loss of appetite for a long time, do not ignore it, and contact your doctor immediately. This is the only possible self-help measure.
Professional help: if the disease is detected early enough, the cancer will be removed (along with a small part of the surrounding gastric tissue) by an operative procedure.
If an operation cannot be performed, the development of cancer may, in some cases, be slowed down by radiotherapy and/or cytostatics.
Prospects for full healing are better if the tumor is removed early. Even when the tumor reappears, symptoms can often be alleviated – with drugs and radiotherapy – for many years. It is believed that patients respond better to therapy if they are determined to fight the disease.