Though we pass off certain symptoms as benign, keeping an eye out for them, especially when they occur together can help you get the treatment you need as early as possible.
"Stomach cancer is one of those tricky diagnoses where most people may have retrospectively felt symptoms, but they’re usually vague symptoms that can be confused with many other benign gastrointestinal (GI) disorders," according to general surgeon Kevin El-Hayek, MD, FACS, in Cleveland Clinic. Although stomach cancer is rare, considering that the symptoms overlap with a few commonly occurring conditions, it is important to be aware of them.
These are the primary symptoms of stomach cancer. It is important to check with the doctor if any of these symptoms persist for more than a couple of days.
1. Unexpected weight loss and loss of appetite
As is the case with many cancers, unexplained weight loss is one of the main symptoms, according to E Medicine Health. In the case of stomach cancer, “People no longer feel hungry and ultimately start losing weight without trying,” says Dr. El-Hayek at Cleaveland Clinic. “That’s probably the most concerning symptom.” So if you notice sudden weight drops or loss, even though your diet and lifestyle are the same, it is important to take note of the changes and go to the doc if there are no external causes.
2. Extreme fatigue
Coupled with the sudden lack of appetite and weight loss, you could also be experiencing slow blood loss. This can lead to anemia (low red-blood-cells count), which in turn can lead to feelings of exhaustion. This blood loss might not be evident until the level of oxygen-transporting hemoglobin in the blood is pretty low. This can also happen when your body is not producing enough red blood cells to match the rate at which it loses them, leading you to feel tired, cold, or dizzy, according to Cleveland Clinic.
3. Blood in your stool
Advanced, as well as early, stomach cancer can cause bleeding in the stomach. And this can cause the blood to enter your gastrointestinal tract, thus leading to blood in your stool, according to Cancer Research UK. While intake of iron tablets can also cause this if you are not in the practice of ingesting it, visit a doctor to see what could be causing it to rule out stomach cancer.
4. Frequent diarrhea
If you are experiencing recurrent bouts of diarrhea or constipation, the first step is to watch your diet and what you consume. Hydration, too, plays a role in ensuring your bowel movement is smooth and regular. It is also important to check you don't have other digestion-related issues such as gastritis, gall bladder concerns, etc. Your doctor will also be able to rule out the possibility of any of these underlying conditions and ask for further investigation if required. According to Cancer Research UK, this is one of the symptoms of stomach cancer.
5. Painful heartburn and indigestion
Indigestion occurs when the natural acids present in the stomach travels back up into the food pipe. It usually happens if there is irritation in your stomach. In the case of stomach cancer, it typically happens after eating, leading to heartburn. While indigestion is common and not always caused by cancer, if it leads to heartburn for three weeks or more, Cancer Research UK suggests you visit your doctor.
6. Bloating of the stomach after meals, even after eating small amounts
If there is a sensation of bloating, even if you haven't eaten much, then it's best to see if there are any other less serious conditions that are causing. When compounded with the other symptoms, this reaction could be a sign of stomach cancer. However, "For bloating to be potentially worrisome, it generally needs to have lasted for more than two weeks in a month", says Dr. Monique Swain, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Henry Ford Health System in Detroit, according to Health.
7. Constant pain in the abdomen
Since stomach cancer usually begins in the mucus-producing cells that line the stomach, it's not a surprise that pain is one of the primary symptoms. However, pain in the abdomen could also be due to infection, abnormal growths, inflammation, obstruction (blockage), and intestinal disorders, says Healthline. But when the pain is specific to the upper abdomen or behind your breastbone (sternum), it could be a symptom of cancer.
8. Trouble swallowing
Otherwise known as dysphagia, if you feel like you have trouble swallowing and it's not caused by allergies or any other pre-existing health conditions, then it is a good reason to talk to your doctor. You might feel some pain or a burning sensation when you swallow, or your food may feel stuck in your throat or chest, according to Cancer Research UK. While there could be other explanations for this issue like taking in large bites of food, inadequate chewing, dry mouth, pills or food that's too hot, it's important to get this checked out by your doctor. This could also be a sign of esophageal cancer, according to WebMD.
“These are all signs that you should probably go see your primary care doctor to see if you warrant further testing,” advises Dr. El-Hayek.
According to the American Cancer Society, these are some of the information we have on the risk factors associated with stomach cancer.
1. It is more likely to affect men more than women.
2. It is more likely to affect people aged between 60 and 80.
3. It is more likely to affect those whose diets have large amounts of smoked foods, salted fish and meat, and pickled vegetables.
4. It is more likely to affect people who are smokers.
5. It is more likely to affect those who are overweight or obese.
6. It is more likely to affect those people who have Type-A blood more though the reason is unknown.
As in the case of all ailments, the earlier it is detected caught, the easier it is to get it treated.