Although gastric (stomach) cancer might be lesser known than other cancers, its impact should not be understated. The disease, which typically occurs when cancer cells form in the lining of the stomach, most commonly impacts men over the age of 50 and is estimated to affect more than 26,000 Americans in 2021 alone. Globally, gastric cancer remains the fifth most common cancer with over one million cases of gastric cancer diagnosed each year around the world.
Because gastric cancer often develops slowly and lacks symptoms in early stages, it is commonly diagnosed after it has metastasized (or spread to other parts of the body), resulting in a poor prognosis. According to the American Cancer Society, only approximately 6% of patients with advanced-stage gastric cancer are alive five years after diagnosis.
As with other forms of cancer, knowledge about gastric cancer is power. Here are three things to know about the disease:
1. Risk Factors Can Range
To understand the impact of gastric cancer, it’s important to first know the risk factors. Risk factors associated with the disease include being overweight or obese, having a diet high in preserved or processed foods, alcohol and tobacco use, and certain bacterial infections. Additionally, a person’s gender, age, ethnicity, family history and genetics can play a role in raising his or her chances of developing gastric cancer.
Being able to recognize the relatively wide range of gastric cancer risk factors may help inform lifestyle changes that can potentially prevent gastric cancer from forming and empower people to have proactive discussions with their care teams to increase the chances that the disease can be detected early.
2. Biomarkers Can Have Bearing on the Management of Gastric Cancer
It’s important to understand the unique characteristics of gastric cancer that may impact its growth and spread, including the presence of biomarkers. Biomarkers are substances made by a tumor or by the body in response to the presence of cancer. Human epidermal growth factor receptor 2 (HER2), a protein found on the surface of cells, is one such gastric cancer biomarker. While many types of cells have HER2 receptors, having more receptors than normal can encourage the growth and spread of cancer. It is estimated that about one in five cases of gastric cancer is HER2-positive, which is correlated with more aggressive disease.
There are tests available that can help determine the presence of biomarkers like HER2 in gastric cancer. These tests are ordered by a physician and can help inform treatment plans for each individual patient’s specific cancer type.
3. Options Exist
Treatment options for gastric cancer have historically included surgery, chemotherapy and radiation. But in recent years, the prognosis has improved for some with biomarker-driven disease, including HER2-positive metastatic gastric cancer, thanks to ongoing clinical research that has brought about medicines that are specifically targeted to such biomarkers.
If you or someone you know has been diagnosed with gastric cancer, be sure to talk to your doctor about the options that may be best for you.
While gastric cancer remains devastating for many patients and their loved ones, knowledge may make a difference.
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