Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, refers to the different types of cancerous cells or tumors that can develop in the stomach as a result of mutated cells. Much of what causes any cancer remains a mystery, leading to continuous research efforts. Experts do know a few things, however, that can explain a bit about gastric cancer. Here’s a look at the causes and risk factors related to stomach cancer.
Understanding How Stomach Cancer Begins
Cancer starts when cells with an abnormality in their DNA essentially become overgrown. All cells have a particular life cycle with a limited time frame: they grow, split in half as a means of reproduction, and eventually die off, leaving room for new cells. Cancerous cells, however, do not die off (at least not as quickly as they should). Instead, the cells grow, reproduce, and continue to grow and reproduce faster than normal, quickly leading to masses of cancerous cells.
One of the most dangerous aspects of cancer is its ability to metastasize: to grow and spread beyond its organ of origin throughout the body. Carcinoid tumors, one of the rarest types of stomach cancer, generally do not move beyond the gastric organ, but other forms of cancer may begin to invade nearby structures. Stomach cancer can even spread through the circulatory system to farther organs. The more advanced gastric cancer becomes and the farther it spreads, the more dangerous it becomes; the more it metastasizes, the harder it is to treat or contain.
Correlations and Stomach Cancer
Cancer of the gastroesophageal junction (the area where the esophagus and stomach meet) has become more common. Researchers suspect gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) and gastroesophageal junction cancer are strongly linked. GERD is a digestive disorder that causes intense, chronic heartburn as a result of frequent acidic irritation.
Risk Factors of Stomach Cancer
A variety of other factors may also influence the development of gastric cancers. A family history of stomach cancer may increase your chances of developing the diseases. Additionally, other gastric diseases, specifically chronic atrophic gastritis or intestinal metaplasia, may play a role. Atrophic gastritis not only affects stomach glands, but causes irritation in the cells -- another factor considered a risk by experts. Stomach polyps and pernicious anemia may be problematic.
Certain infections may incite cancerous changes, such as the fungus aflatoxin and the bacteria Helicobacter pylori . H. pylori in particular “can convert substances in some foods into chemicals that cause mutations (changes) in the DNA of the cells in the stomach lining” according to the American Cancer Society. This may have something to do with the reaction of the stomach to smokey or salted foods.
Conversely, fruits and vegetables can counteract this reaction. Too little of those in the diet can be a risk factor for stomach cancer. It is also important to note that chronic atrophic gastritis, intestinal metaplasia, H. pylori, and pernicious anemia can all be interwoven along with stomach cancer. The causes, correlations, and risk factors of stomach cancer are a complex beast. If you meet multiple risk factors for stomach cancer or are experiencing troubling symptoms, talk to your doctor as soon as possible about prevention and treatment.