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Stomach cancer uncommon but often deadly

13 January 2022 Blog
Cancer care Gastroenterology
Professor Kynan Feeney from Oncology West says stomach cancer is comparatively uncommon in our community but we should be aware of its symptoms as it is a common cause of cancer death.

“Abdominal pain, weight loss and black stools are associated with stomach cancer but they are also indicators of other issues such as ulcers and reflux disease,” Professor Kynan says.

“Older age is the main risk factor, but obesity and smoking can also increase your risk.”

“There are probably other environmental factors, as the prevalence of stomach cancer in Japan is ten times that of Australia. But when Japanese people move to Australia, their children's risk of stomach cancer reduces and their risk of colon cancer increases, suggesting a possible dietary or other environmental influence.”

Is there anything you can do reduce your risk of developing stomach cancer?

“There’s no sure way to prevent stomach cancer but maintaining a healthy weight and not smoking can reduce your risk.”

A diet rich in fruit, vegetables and whole grains is recommended, and some recent studies suggest that avoiding smoked and pickled foods and salted meats and fish is helpful.

If you are diagnosed with stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, you will need to obtain a gastroscopy and biopsies, see a specialist upper GI surgeon and oncologist to see how far the cancer has spread and your options for treatment. Depending on how much the cancer has spread, early cancers can be cured with surgery.

Stomach cancer begins from abnormal cells in the lining (mucosa) of the stomach. Tumours can begin anywhere in the stomach, although most start in the glandular tissue found on the stomach’s inner surface. This type of cancer is called adenocarcinoma of the stomach (also known as gastric cancer).

For more information about stomach cancer, visit the Cancer Council website.

About 2100 people are diagnosed with stomach cancer in Australia each year. Men are twice as likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer as women. About one in 121 men and one in 290 women are likely to develop stomach cancer before the age of 75. It is more common in people over 60, but it can occur at any age.

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A/Prof Kynan Feeney is the Head of Department of Cancer Services at St John of God Murdoch Hospital and a member of the Medical Advisory Committee overseeing medical services at Murdoch.  His main clinical interests are in breast, gastrointestinal cancer and melanoma. He is also the principal investigator of clinical trials investigating new treatments spanning breast, melanoma, colon, gastric, esophageal, lung, bladder, pancreas and renal cancer. A/Prof Feeney is highly active in new immunotherapy treatment for different types of cancer. He is also active in research looking at exercise as a treatment of certain types of cancer. He is clinical mentor for final year medical students at Notre Dame University where he is adjunct professor.