Oesophageal and Stomach Cancer
The oesophagus is a muscular tube about 25cms long and it connects your mouth to your stomach. When you swallow food, the walls of the oesophagus squeeze together and this moves the food down the oesophagus.
Causes and Risk Factors for Oesophageal Cancer
We do not know exactly what causes oesophageal cancer but there are certain risk factors which can increase a person’s chances of developing it.
- Long-term acid reflux – this can damage the lining of the oesophagus and can lead to Barrett’s Oesophagus which can develop into oesophageal cancer
- Gender – it is more common in men than women
- Age – the risk of developing oesophageal cancer increase as you get older
- Diet – Eating lots of processed meats can increase your risk, eating lots of fruit and vegetables may help to reduce the risk
- Previous cancer treatment – radiotherapy to the chest area
- Rare medical conditions e.g. Achalasia where the muscle between the oesophagus and stomach does not relax properly and Tylosis which is a rare skin condition.
The stomach is a stretchy muscular bag which stores food and helps to break it down. An adult’s stomach is about 25 cms long and it can expand to hold about a litre of food. The upper part of the stomach joins to the oesophagus. The lower part of the stomach joins to the first part of the small bowel (the duodenum). The pancreas, gall bladder and liver are close to the stomach and they produce enzymes (chemicals) that help us digest food.
When food reaches the stomach it churns the food up and mixes it with acid and enzymes. This breaks the food down into smaller pieces so that our bodies can absorb the nutrients we need to give us energy and keep us healthy.
Causes and Risk Factors of Stomach Cancer (also known as Gastric Cancer)
The exact cause of stomach cancer is not known but certain things called risk factors can increase the chance of developing stomach cancer. Having a risk factor doesn’t mean that someone will get cancer.
- Gender – Stomach cancer is more common in men than women. Men have more than double the risk
- Age – The risk increases as we get older and 51% of people who develop stomach cancer are 75 years or older
- Helicobacter pylori ( H. pylori) infection – this is a common infection that causes inflammation of the stomach lining
- Diet – high in processed meat, high in salt and foods that are smoked or pickled can increase the risk of developing stomach cancer
- Being overweight
- Acid reflux
- Changes to the stomach lining e.g. gastritis and pernicious anaemia
- Family history – people who have a brother, sister or parent with stomach cancer may have a higher risk
- Genes – in a very small number of families there is an inherited cancer gene which increases the risk of developing stomach cancer
These symptoms can be caused by other conditions but you should always have them checked out by your doctor. If you have symptoms that do not improve then it is important that your GP refers you to a specialist who can arrange further tests to find out what the problem is.