Debunking Stomach Cancer Myths

20 August 2021

If you are experiencing gastrointestinal discomfort, Dr Tan Eng Soon, Consultant Gastroenterologist and Hepatologist at Sunway Medical Centre, emphasised that you should consult a specialist as soon as possible. There are almost no obvious symptoms in the early stages of stomach cancer and even if symptoms are present, it may be difficult to distinguish it from gastric problems.

Some diseases can be prevented through early detection. For example, colorectal cancer starts from polyps which can be detected through a colonoscopy and removed before it develops into cancer. But there is no screening to detect stomach cancer therefore those who experience gastrointestinal discomfort are advised to undergo gastroscopy (examination of the stomach).

A H. pylori antibody test is also an option to include in your regular health check-ups as this infection is one of the main factors contributing the stomach cancer. H. pylori infection can be detected through a blood test or Urea Breath Test (UBT).

“Besides bacterial infections, stomach cancer can also be caused by genetic mutations in the body, unhealthy diet, severe obesity, smoking and chronic inflammation in the stomach,” Dr Tan said, adding that the incidence of stomach cancer is highest among the Chinese, followed by Malays and Indians.

Dr Tan pointed out that the earlier stomach cancer is diagnosed and treated, the higher the chance for a five-year survival rate. Research found that the five-year survival rate of early-stage stomach cancer is as higher 93.6% while at the later the stage, it is less than 20%. Early diagnosis and timely treatment is key to saving lives.

The best treatment for stomach cancer is surgery and if necessary, chemotherapy or electrotherapy. But if the patient is diagnosed at an advanced stage, surgery is not effective and chemotherapy or electrotherapy will be mainly used to control the disease.

“Surgery is the primary treatment for early-stage stomach cancer (Stage 1 and 2) and chemotherapy may not always be required. If the disease progresses to the third stage, a combination of surgery and chemotherapy will be considered depending on the patient’s condition. Sometimes chemotherapy may be used to shrink the tumour before surgery to achieve better results. Chemotherapy before surgery is becoming an increasingly common option,” Dr Tan said.

Stomach Cancer Myths

Myth 1: Chronic indigestion is a symptom of stomach cancer

Dr Tan pointed out that dyspepsia is the specific term referring to the discomfort caused by gastric conditions, but it is not necessarily a symptom of stomach cancer.  

Myth 2: Vegetarianism does not cause stomach cancer

This is a misconception. Various scientific studies have shown that food is one of the cancer-causing factors. Vegetarians who do not take good care of themselves and ignore other risk

Myth 3: People will not survive a gastrectomy

Dr Tan emphasised that people can survive a gastrectomy (medical procedure where all or part of the stomach is surgically removed as the human gut is amazing. The body may need to adapt after procedure but the person can return to good health.

Myth 4: Stomach cancer is not common

Stomach cancer is one of the top 10 most common cancers in Malaysia, but because many are not aware of it, most patients are diagnosed ad an advanced stage. However, the incidence of stomach cancer in Malaysia is decreasing year by year. Dr Tan believes this is due to the decrease in H. pylori infections, while other studies suggest that this is due to the improvement of modern methods of storing food (e.g. the invention of the refrigerator).

Source: China Press