Why stomach cancer cases are rising in India?

Health |  IANS  | Published :

New Delhi, Nov 29 (IANS) Eating junk food, stress, unhealthy lifestyle and genes explain the major reason behind increase in stomach cancer cases in India, said experts here on Wednesday.

Stomach cancer, also known as Gastric cancer, is the fifth most common cancer among males and seventh most common cancer among females in India. It is also the second most common cause of cancer death globally.

Over the past decade, the incidence of stomach cancer in India has exhibited a gradual increase.

Compared to many Western countries, stomach cancer rates in India are relatively high.

It is due to unique dietary practices, notably a preference for spicy and preserved foods, and alcohol intake, according to doctors.

“Stomach cancer predominantly affects individuals after the age of 50 years, with the average age at diagnosis being around 60. There's a slightly higher prevalence among men compared to women, with men exhibiting a higher risk due to lifestyle factors like higher rates of smoking and alcohol consumption,” said Dr Puneet Dhar, HoD, Gastrointestinal Surgery, Amrita Hospital, Faridabad.

“Geographically, higher incidence rates are noted in regions where dietary patterns include more spicy, salty, or preserved foods. Hormonal differences and genetic factors might also play a role, although further research is needed for conclusive evidence,” he added.

Symptoms of stomach cancer include persistent abdominal pain or discomfort, unexplained weight loss, loss of appetite, difficulty swallowing, nausea, vomiting, and blood in the stool.

While early-stage stomach cancer may not exhibit noticeable symptoms, the doctors emphasised the importance of regular screenings for high-risk individuals.

Stomach cancer prognosis varies widely depending on the stage at diagnosis. Types of stomach cancer include adenocarcinoma, lymphoma, and gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs). Unfortunately, stomach cancer is often diagnosed in later stages, contributing to higher mortality rates.

“The epidemiology of gastric cancer suggests that it is not a single disease or caused by a single factor, but a combination of genetic, socio-cultural, and environmental factors in a given region dictates its presentation. Various etiological factors including smoking, alcohol, nitrates, and Helicobacter pylori infection have been proposed as causative factors for gastric cancer,” Dr Harish Verma, Senior Consultant - Surgical Oncology, Marengo Asia Hospitals, Gurugram, told IANS.

The high incidence of local and distant recurrence even in patients with completely resectable gastric cancer indicates the systemic spread of cancer very early in the disease, thus emphasising the need for multimodality treatment including surgery, radiotherapy, and chemotherapy for treating the disease.

“Worldwide and more so in the developed world, there has been a decline in the incidence of gastric cancer and this has been attributed to improved food hygiene, sanitation, and food preservation techniques. However, this declining trend has not been seen in certain parts of India. Differences in some dietary patterns and use of tobacco and alcohol have been considered as potential risk factors,” Verma said.

The health experts called for improving the dietary habits along with avoidance of preserved food and healthy lifestyle change to curb the incidence of stomach cancer.

They also stressed the need for eating a balanced diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, minimising processed and preserved foods, quitting smoking, moderating alcohol intake, and scheduling regular medical check-ups, particularly for those with a family history or concerning symptoms.

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