Stomach Cancer: Lifestyle Exposure

Asian American women have the highest rates for new cases of stomach cancer: three times that of Caucasian women. Asian American men are twice as likely as Caucasian men to have stomach cancer and Korean men in particular experience the highest rate of stomach cancer of all ethnic groups: five-fold the rate of Caucasian men.

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer is the growth of cancer cells in the lining and wall of the stomach. Cancer begins in cells which are the building blocks of tissues that make up organs. Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as old cells die off. When this cycle becomes disrupted, new cells are formed when the body does not need them and old cells do not die at the rate they should. These extra mutated cells can form a mass of tissue called a tumor, which can be either benign (not cancerous) or malignant (cancerous). The type of cancer that develops from a malignant tumor depends on the site of the tumor.

Malignant tumors can be removed, but sometimes they grow back. Cells from these tumors can invade and damage nearby tissues and organs and will eventually spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body. Cancer cells spread by breaking away from the tumor and entering the bloodstream or the lymphatic system. These cells will invade other organs and form new tumors of the same type. Therefore, mutated cells from the stomach tumor that spread to other organs are still stomach cancer cells.

Your risk for stomach cancer increases if you: are a man, are older than 70 years of age, have a family history of stomach cancer, smoke, abuse alcohol, have stomach polyps or small growths in the lining of your stomach. Furthermore, the chances of getting stomach cancer increase if you have had a stomach infection caused by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori which causes ulcers in the stomach. Some studies also suggest that diets high in foods that are smoked, salted or pickled may be at an increased risk for stomach cancer. The typical Korean diet which includes many foods that are high in salt and nitrates/nitrites, may be part of the reason stomach cancer rates are so high in this Asian subgroup.


Early stages of stomach cancer do not usually cause symptoms, making it hard to detect. In most cases, the cancer has already spread before it is found. When symptoms do occur, they are usually so mild that they go ignored.

The symptoms during the early stages of stomach cancer may include: indigestion, stomach discomfort or heartburn, nausea, loss of appetite and fatigue.

When the cancer has progressed beyond the early stages, here are the symptoms most commonly reported: bloating of the stomach after meals, unintended weight loss, vomiting blood or bloody stools, stomach pain after meals, and fatigue.

These symptoms can also be caused by less serious problems like a stomach virus or a peptic ulcer. However, if any of these problems arise, it is recommended to see a doctor. The earlier stomach cancer is found, the better the chances of its treatment.


Limiting the consumption of alcohol, not smoking, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables, and making sure to get enough vitamin C are all ways to reduce the risk of stomach cancer.

If you have symptoms that suggest stomach cancer, or are at a high risk of stomach cancer, talk to your doctor about getting tested. There are various tests for diagnosing stomach cancer that include blood tests, a physical exam, x-rays of the stomach and esophagus, endoscopy (examination of stomach with a lighted tube), and biopsy (examination of stomach tissue).


Treatment depends on the stage of the cancer, a person’s age and overall health. Some of the treatments may include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these treatments.

Cancer treatments often damage healthy cells and tissues resulting in side effects. Side effects may not be the same for each person and depend mainly on the type and degree of treatment.