The stomach is a large pouch that collects food after you eat. The stomach produces acidic fluid that mixes with the food and helps break it down so that it can be digested. The stomach then releases the food into the intestine for additional digestion and absorption. Stomach cancer (also known as gastric cancer) occurs when the inner-most layer of the stomach is damaged and develops mutations in its DNA at the cellular level. This can cause a cancerous mass to grow in the stomach, which if left untreated, can spread to lymph nodes and then to other organs.
Approximately 25,000 people in the United States are diagnosed with gastric cancer each year. The incidence has been decreasing over the last decade.
As mentioned previously, gastric cancer is caused by repetitive injury to the inner lining of the stomach. This injury often occurs from chronic stomach ulcers. For this reason, some people present with pain related to the ulcer. Any stomach ulcer that fails to resolve with medication should be biopsied to rule out gastric cancer. Additionally, there is a very specific type of bacteria called H. Pylori that is known to caused stomach ulcers and is therefore associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer. If present, the bacteria should be treated with medicine and eradicated to reduce the risk of stomach cancer. In addition to pain, one possible sign that can suggest stomach cancer is something called anemia or low blood counts. This can occur if the cancer or ulcer is chronically bleeding. Over time, this slow bleed can reduce your blood counts, making you fatigued. Anemia can be evaluated with a simple blood test.
Most stomach cancer is treated with a combination of chemotherapy and surgery. In some very early cancers, surgery alone can be curative.
At TriHealth, we believe in a multidisciplinary approach to treating stomach cancer. This means coordination of your care to include multiple specialists working together for one common goal – you. This multidisciplinary care starts at the time of your diagnosis. Your GI doctor will notify our nurse navigator. The nurse navigator will then schedule you an appointment in our GI multidisciplinary clinic and schedule any additional tests that you may need prior to your office visit. In our GI multidisciplinary clinic you will meet with multiple specialists who will be involved in your care. This will likely include a medical oncologist and a surgical oncologist. We also have dietitians and licensed genetic councilors available at this appointment. Together, these specialists will develop a comprehensive treatment plan for you.
Surgery can be an important part of treating stomach cancer. The specific surgical procedure depends on the location of the tumor. Cancers that are located in the top of the stomach may require removal of the entire stomach in a procedure called a total gastrectomy. Cancers that are located at the bottom of the stomach can be removed by only removing about half the stomach. This procedure is called a distal gastrectomy. At TriHealth, we can perform both of these procedures in a minimally invasive fashion through the use of robotic surgical technology. This means making smaller incisions so that you have less pain and recover faster. TriHealth is a high-volume center and has the largest experience in the region performing the minimally invasive robotic gastrectomy.