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SMG News

Stomach and Pancreatic Cancer – What to Know

Last updated: Nov 13, 2019

The month of November is dedicated to raising awareness for both stomach (gastric) and pancreatic cancer, two forms of cancer that affect nearly 100,000 people annually. Both cancers present severe hardships and share similarly poor prognosis if not detected early and properly treated. Dr. Joseph Kim, Summit Medical Group surgical oncologist and cancer specialist, is well-versed in both diseases. In the below Q&A, he shares some important need-to-know information, so you can better understand the diseases, their symptoms, and their risk factors.

Stomach (Gastric) Cancer Q&A with Dr. Kim

What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer is a cancer that forms in tissue lining the stomach. While overall health and genetic predisposition play a major role in its development, there are modifiable factors which contribute to development including diet, obesity and smoking. 

How common is stomach cancer?
While instances of stomach cancer are decreasing in the U.S., it remains one of the most common cancer types worldwide. It’s currently estimated that more than 10,000 people will die from stomach cancer this year and more than 26,000 will be diagnosed.

What are some risk factors for stomach cancer?

  • Age, gender and ethnicity. Stomach cancer is more common in men, older adults, and Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans and Asian/Pacific Islanders.
  • Smoking and tobacco use can double your stomach cancer risk.
  • Diets with large amounts of smoked, salted and pickled foods increase the risk for stomach cancer. The nitrates in cured foods can increase the levels of H pylori bacteria in the stomach, which can cause stomach cancer.
  • For unknown reasons, people with type A blood are more likely to get stomach cancer. 
  • Certain genetic conditions including CDH1, BRCA1 and BRCA2.
  • Having a family history of stomach cancer.

What are the signs and symptoms of stomach cancer?

  • Lack of appetite or sudden loss of weight
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort in the upper belly
  • Feeling full quickly
  • Heartburn and indigestion
  • Nausea and vomiting, with or without blood
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Anemia

​How is stomach cancer diagnosed?

Stomach cancer is diagnosed through close examination of the abdomen and discussion of family history. Bloodwork can contribute to the diagnosis but ultimately, endoscopy and biopsy of the stomach is needed for diagnosis, followed by a CT scan and ultrasound to complete staging.

How is stomach cancer treated?

Treatment is based on the stage of the disease, and while the mainstay is surgery, this disease requires a multi-specialty approach usually including chemotherapy and sometimes the addition of radiation therapy or immunotherapy.

Pancreatic Cancer Q&A with Dr. Kim

What is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is a disease in which cancerous cells form in the tissues of the pancreas, the organ that aids in digestion and helps to manage blood sugar. Pancreatic cancer can spread silently with no symptoms until the cancer is well advanced.

How common is pancreatic cancer?

Pancreatic cancer is the 10th most common cancer in the U.S. and the fourth deadliest—the highest mortality rate of all major cancers. By 2030, it is expected to become the second leading cause of cancer-related death in the country. 93 percent of pancreatic cancer patients die within five years of diagnosis. According to the American Cancer Society, one in 63 men and one in 65 women have a lifetime risk for developing pancreatic cancer.

What are its risk factors?

  • Tobacco use
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Exposure to chemicals such as pesticides or dyes
  • Increased age. The risk of pancreatic cancer increases with age, with 71 being the average age of diagnosis.
  • Gender. Men are 30 percent more likely than women to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Ethnicity. African-American. It is unclear why, but African-Americans are more likely than Caucasians to develop pancreatic cancer.
  • Family history of the disease
  • Other medical conditions such as diabetes, chronic pancreatitis, cirrhosis of the liver, or stomach issues such as ulcer-causing bacteria.

What are the signs and symptoms of pancreatic cancer?

  • Jaundice (yellowing of the skin)
  • Pain in the back or abdomen
  • Unintentional weight loss or lack of appetite
  • Digestive problems
  • Blood clots
  • Depression

How is pancreatic cancer diagnosed?

Patients who are suspected of having pancreatic cancer may undergo imaging tests, an endoscopy, a biopsy, and blood tests to determine the diagnosis and the extent or stage of the disease.

How is pancreatic cancer treated?

Treatment may include some combination of surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy. If the cancer is advanced, chemotherapy may be used to control growth and prolong survival.

“Raising awareness is one of the most important things we can do to save lives,” says Dr. Kim. He adds, “The more people know, the more likely they are to pay attention to risks and the quicker they are to identify symptoms - all things that give them a better chance at survival and us a better chance to successfully treat them.”

Joseph J. Kim, MD is a member of Summit Medical Group's General Surgery team who specializes in Complex Surgical Oncology. Dr. Kim’s areas of expertise include tumors of the pancreas, liver, gallbladder and biliary system, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, colon, and rectum. He also has expertise in treating skin cancers and sarcomas, soft tissue tumors of the chest, abdomen, retroperitoneum, and extremities.