Better treatment techniques mean the disease is curable if caught early. Unfortunately, early symptoms are vague and all too easy to ignore. They include indigestion, bloating, mild nausea, loss of appetite and/or heartburn-often dismissed as minor ailments that don’t warrant a doctor’s visit.
The same symptoms may result from common ulcers, chronic gastritis and gastroesophageal reflux disease. Ulcers themselves do not appear to lead to stomach cancer. However, ulcers and chronic gastritis are both commonly caused by Helicobacter pylori bacteria that infect the stomach. The American Cancer Society estimates that H. pylori causes 60 percent of stomach cancer cases. Longstanding reflux disease also increases the risk of cancer of the upper stomach, where it joins the esophagus
“Patients shouldn’t ignore chronic or recurring gastric symptoms,” said said Dr. Joseph Fanelle, Medical Director of the South Jersey Healthcare Frank and Edith Scarpa Cancer Pavilion. “They may be a sign of stomach cancer or another potentially serious gastrointestinal condition that requires treatment.”
In addition to H. pylori, other risk factors for stomach cancer include diets high in smoked foods, salted fish and meat and pickled vegetables; smoking; obesity; previous stomach surgery for noncancerous conditions; family history of stomach cancer; and stomach polyps called adenomas.
Protecting yourself against stomach cancer means watching your diet. Studies suggest that eating whole-grain products and fruits and vegetables high in vitamins A and C and other antioxidants lower the risk of stomach cancer.
A six-year study conducted in an area of Colombia with a high rate of stomach cancer tested preventive strategies in patients with precancerous symptoms. As reported Dec. 6, 2000, in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, the H. pylori treatment, vitamin C and beta-carotene (a form of vitamin A) all helped reverse the abnormalities about equally, with no extra benefit from combining treatments.
“Researchers are now beginning to understand, more than ever before, the importance of maintaining a healthy diet,” Fanelle. “Eating the recommended allowance of fruits and vegetables each day is good medicine.”
One plant chemical-polyphenol resveratrol-found in wine may also decrease your risk of developing stomach cancer. According to the June 1, 2005, European Journal of Cancer Prevention, patients who consumed six glasses of wine per week had a 24 percent lower risk of this cancer. A number of other stomach cancer prevention trials are currently taking place around the world.
In addition, the National Cancer Institute recommends five to nine servings a day of colorful, nutrient-rich fruits and vegetables like spinach, tomatoes, strawberries and bell peppers. Limit the amount of cured meats with nitrate and nitrite preservatives such as bacon, ham, bologna and salami in your diet, especially if you have other risk factors for stomach cancer. Choose fish and poultry over red meat-especially red meat that has been smoked or grilled.
To learn more about stomach cancer and other cancers, call the SJH Frank and Edith Scarpa Regional Cancer Pavilion at (856) 575-4430.
SJH Cancer Services, located in the Frank and Edith Scarpa Regional Cancer Pavilion, have been an affiliate of the Fox Chase Cancer Center since 1995. SJH offers the only cancer program in Cumberland, Salem, or Gloucester counties designated as a Community Hospital Comprehensive Cancer Program by the American College of Surgeons - Commission on Cancer.
The SJH team of board-certified physicians, registered radiation therapists and nationally-certified oncology nurses have provided state-of-the-art radiation therapy, medical oncology and cancer support services to thousands of patients in the region for more than 25 years.
SJH is a nonprofit, integrated health care system, providing access to a continuum of health services. SJH provides hospital services, numerous community health clinics, home health services, and specialty services, which serve the medical and health care needs of Southern New Jersey residents.