It’s a cancer that’s rare in the United States. Fortunately, the number of patients diagnosed with stomach cancer each year is steadily declining.
Stomach cancer is also referred to as gastric cancer. According to the Mayo Clinic, the most common type is adenocarcinoma, which starts in the mucus-producing cells in the interior lining of the stomach.
The treatment for this condition largely depends on the stage of the malignancy that tests reveal. There are four defined stages:
Stage I. The tumor is located only in the layer of tissue lining the inside of the stomach. However, malignant cells might also have spread to lymph nodes in the area.
Stage II. The cancer could be either a malignancy that has spread and is now growing into the muscle layer of the wall of the stomach or a smaller one that has moved into the lymph nodes.
Stage III. Typically, the cancer has progressed through all layers of the anatomy of the stomach. It could also involve a cancer that’s smaller but has spread extensively to the lymph nodes.
Stage IV. The cancer now extends beyond the stomach and is growing into organs in same area as the tumor. It could also be a smaller malignancy that’s spread to distant parts of the body.
Doctors use several types of treatments to attack stomach cancer and must decide which ones are appropriate for each patient and the staging of his or her disease. The treatments for the most common type of stomach cancer include:
Surgery: The surgeon seeks to take out all of the cancer and also removes a margin of healthy tissue whenever possible. The surgical techniques utilized range from using endoscopy to remove very small, early-stage tumors in the stomach lining to removing part of the stomach (known as a subtotal gastrectomy) or all of the organ (total gastrectomy). The surgeon also removes lymph nodes in the abdomen for examination. When stomach cancer is very advanced, removing part of the organ is an option for relieving symptoms of a growing tumor and for making the patient more comfortable.
Radiation: This therapy uses high-powered beams to kill cancer cells. It can be used either before surgery to shrink a tumor to the size where surgical removal is possible or after surgery to zap any remaining cancer cells near the stomach. Radiation therapy is often combined with chemotherapy and is also sometimes used in advanced cases to help relieve the side effects of a big tumor.
Chemotherapy: High-powered chemicals travel throughout the body to destroy any cancer cells that have spread beyond the stomach. When administered before surgery, chemotherapy can help shrink a tumor to make removal easier. Like radiation, it is sometimes successful in helping relieve the most troublesome symptoms of advanced stomach cancer.
Clinical trials: These studies seek to discover new treatments for stomach cancer as well as new methods of utilizing standard treatments. Patients must apply to be part of a clinical trial and are extensively screened to see if they meet the required criteria for the study. While they might have access to the newest treatments, they aren’t guaranteed a cure and might, in fact, be in a group that receives a placebo. The best way for a patient to find out about clinical trials available is to bring it up with his or her doctor.