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Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, affects the stomach, which is found in the upper part of the abdomen and just below the ribs. The stomach is part of the body's digestive system. It produces acids and enzymes that break down food before passing it to the small intestine. The cancer can develop in any part of the stomach and spread up towards the esophagus (the tube that connects mouth to the stomach) or down into the small intestine.
Rates of stomach cancer vary widely throughout the world. In Japan, it's the most common cancer, where it affects 1 in every 1,000 people. The incidence is also very high in Chile and Iceland. In Canada, while the rates of stomach cancer aren't as high, it is still one of the top 20 most common cancers.
This type of cancer more often strikes older people, men more often than women, and people of African descent more often than Caucasians.
As with most cancers, researchers don't know yet what causes stomach cancer. Several risk factors have been identified, however. These include:
Many symptoms of stomach cancer are easily ignored as simple discomfort, which is why stomach cancer often progresses quite far before being detected. Some of these symptoms include:
Advanced stomach cancer will severely affect digestion and nutrition and may spread throughout the body, eventually causing death.
The main complication arising from treated stomach cancer is related to the surgery, where the removal of the stomach results in nutritional problems. Also, there's the possibility that the cancer can return, so it's very important to continue with follow-ups as recommended by your health care team.