Spotting Stomach Cancer Early

The symptoms of stomach cancer are similar to those of a peptic ulcer: loss of appetite, bloating, heartburn, and nausea. This is what makes stomach cancer so difficult to identify quickly, and it contributes to it being one of the top five deadliest forms of cancer. Rather than get checked out, most people with symptoms that turn out to result from the early stages of stomach cancer take ulcer or indigestion medication—if that much, because sometimes the cancer produces no symptoms at all—and leaves it alone.

However, people who are at risk for stomach cancer need to be wary of it, and should see a medical professional if any of the symptoms appear. People who do have ulcers should be screened regularly as a precaution, since they are particularly prone to interpreting the cancer symptoms as being related to the ulcer. It’s also a risk factor for cancer. Other risk factors include smoking, a diet that includes a lot of salty or smoked foods but little in the way of fruits an vegetables, a family history of cancer, and infection with a bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. This is a quite common bacterium, is actually quite common i the stomach, and usually harmless, but it can be a contributing factor in cancer.

Because it is so difficult to spot symptomatically, and the most reliable available screening procedure is an uncomfortable, complicated, expensive procedure called an upper GI series, stomach cancer frequently goes unrecognized early on, when it is most responsive to treatment. Researchers have now created a blood test they say can detect stomach cancer without any symptoms at all That could make it easier for people at risk—especially people with a family history of the disease—to be regularly tested.

Stomach cancer is normally treated with chemotherapy, but one group of researchers is now suggesting a possible alternative approach. Because the tumors rely on a nerve called the gastric vagus nerve, blocking the vagus nerve off or severing the connection between it and the tumor can slow tumor growth. One way to do that is with Botox, a form of botulism toxin often associated with plastic surgery. Botox blocks the nerve signal, preventing the tumor from receiving it and growing.

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