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Stomach Cancer Symptoms & Risk Factors

Stomach cancer rarely causes symptoms in its early stages, making the disease difficult to detect. In later stages when symptoms do occur, they can often be mistaken for other conditions, such as an ulcer.

Stomach Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of stomach cancer include:

  • Decreased appetite
  • Increased feelings of fullness after eating a small amount
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Uncontrolled acid reflux
  • Dark-colored or bloody stool
  • Abdominal pain or discomfort (typically above the navel)
  • Decreased red blood cell count
  • Nausea
  • Vomit that sometimes includes blood

Stomach Cancer Risk Factors

Having one or more risk factors for stomach cancer does not mean that you will develop the disease. However, because many symptoms also are associated with or mistaken for other conditions, knowing your risk is key to detecting stomach cancer as early as possible. Talk to your doctor if you are concerned that you are at higher risk.

Some factors that increase a person's risk of developing stomach cancer cannot be changed. These factors include:

  • Age: Approximately two-thirds of stomach cancer cases occur in individuals age 65 or older.
  • Gender: Men are more likely than women to develop stomach cancer.
  • Family history: People with an immediate family member who has had stomach cancer are at higher risk for the condition themselves.
  • Blood type: For reasons currently unknown, individuals with type A blood are at higher risk for stomach cancer than someone with another blood type.

Certain genetic syndromes also have been linked to higher risk of stomach cancer, including Lynch syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), and the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, which are most commonly known as inherited breast cancer genes. The H. pylori infection is a significant risk factor for stomach cancer, but the infection itself can be treated with antibiotics. Individuals with adenomatous polyps, pernicious anemia and a history of stomach surgery for ulcers and other noncancerous diseases also are known to be at higher risk.

How to Modify Your Risk for Stomach Cancer

Risk factors for stomach cancer that can be modified include:

  • Smoking nearly doubles someone's risk of stomach cancer.
  • A diet high in nitrates and nitrites, found commonly in cured meats and other smoked foods
  • Being overweight or obese.