More than 60% of Thai people suffer from digestive disorders. One in five people has abnormalities in their upper digestive tract, particularly the stomach and small intestine, including “stomach cancer,” also called gastric cancer, which is a leading cause of death. As symptoms commonly arise at an advanced stage, the prognosis for gastric cancer is challenging.
Regarding cancer statistics among Thais, stomach cancer ranks sixth in males and ninth in women. Risk factors for stomach cancer include:
- Age and gender: stomach cancer is more common in adults over the age of 50, and it affects men more than women.
- Risky behaviors that lead to disease include smoking, drinking alcohol, infrequently eating fruits and vegetables, etc.
- Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection that causes chronic stomach disorders and inflammation of the upper digestive tract (gastritis). People with chronic H. pylori infections have an increased risk of developing cancer cells.
- Chronic gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux, and obesity
- Regular consumption of foods containing preservatives, particularly the carcinogenic “Nitrosamines.” Fermented foods, tinned foods, grilled foods, and processed meats such as ham and sausage, covering various kinds of sausages from regular sausage to white pork sausage (Mooyor – หมูยอ), Chinese sausage (Goon Chiang – กุนเชียง), and fermented sausage (Naem – แหนม) usually have Nitrosamines.
- Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer (HDGC)
Stomach cancer in its early stages is frequently asymptomatic (has no symptoms) or has symptoms comparable to peptic ulcer, such as bloating, nausea, and loss of appetite. As the disease progresses, various symptoms can develop, such as stomachache, epigastric distress, heartburn, vomiting blood, black stools, paleness, fatigue, inability to eat, and weight loss. However, stomach cancer usually manifests symptoms when it has progressed to an advanced stage.
Let’s learn a little bit about H. Pylori and why it is important to discuss or be aware of it.
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a subordinate organization of the World Health Organization (WHO), identified H. pylori as a human carcinogen or cancer-causing agent due to its role in causing stomach cancer in 1994. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recognize H. pylori as one of the most common chronic bacterial infections worldwide, with two-thirds of the world’s population being infected.
H. pylori infection is transferrable from human to human and easily infected. It could be transferred orally by using the same spoon and straw. As a result, people who live in the same house have a significant risk of transmitting the infection to each other. Oh! H. pylori can also be spread through kissing.
The natural habitat of H. pylori is the epithelial surface of the human gastric mucosa, where it has to survive in the gastric acidic pH. Hence, it developed mechanisms to neutralize the effects of acidic pH by making an enzyme called urease, which makes the stomach acids less acidic (neutralizes them). The mechanisms weaken the stomach’s lining and cause persistent infections. Additionally, H. pylori also has a virulence factor of cytotoxin-associated gene A (CagA) that can cause chronic inflammation, gastritis, gastric ulcer, duodenal ulcer, as well as gastric ulcer, or even certain types of lymphoma.
As you have seen how significantly H. Pylori contributes to stomach cancer, taking an H. pylori test would be a quick and simple way to determine your risk of stomach cancer.
Any of the atypical symptoms indicated above should be checked out as soon as they appear. Even an annual health check-up is important as it’s better than waiting for symptoms to show.