One of the most frequent questions that cancer-afflicted patients tend to ask is why and how they got the disease. Given the enormity of the ailment, concerned relatives and friends also want to find out how it can be prevented. The truth is, doctors cannot always explain why one person gets cancer and another does not. However, we do know certain other things.
In this article, we shall focus on stomach (gastric) and large intestine (colorectal) cancers.
The Food Highway
- Food passes through the alimentary canal or the gastrointestinal tract, in order to get converted to the nutrients we need.
- The food moves from the throat to the stomach through a hollow, muscular tube called the oesophagus.
- The stomach is a J-shaped organ in the upper abdomen. It is part of the digestive system, which processes nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water) from foods and helps pass waste material out of the body.
- After leaving the stomach, the partly digested food passes into the small intestine and then into the large intestine.
- The colon is at the tail end of the digestive system. It removes and processes nutrients (vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and water) from the food and helps pass waste material out of the body.
- The first six feet of the large intestine are called the large bowel or colon. The last six inches are the rectum and the anal canal. The anal canal ends at the anus (the opening of the large intestine to the outside of the body) where the food finally leaves the body.
Better Than Cure
Anything that increases your chance of developing a disease is called a risk factor; anything that decreases your chance of developing a disease is called a protective factor. Generally, risk factors are partly genetic and partly related to environment and lifestyle. Some of the risk factors for cancer can be avoided, but many cannot. Prevention means avoiding the risk factors, and increasing the protective factors that can be controlled, so that the chance of developing cancer decreases.
It is said ‘you are what you eat’. Certainly, what we eat can be a significant contributory factor for stomach and colorectal cancer.
- Excessive salt intake and eating smoked foods have been identified as possible risk factors for stomach cancer.
- Having a high intake of fresh fruit and vegetables may decrease the risk of stomach cancer.
- Studies have suggested that eating foods that contain beta-carotene and vitamin C may decrease the risk of stomach cancer.
There is strong evidence that infection with a certain bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, is associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer (this bacteria is also behind stomach ulcers). However, the good news is that this is easily treatable.
Other medical conditions known to increase risk of stomach cancer include:
- Chronic gastritis (inflammation of stomach).
- Pernicious anaemia, associated with vitamin B12 deficiency.
- Intestinal metaplasia, a condition in which the normal stomach lining is replaced with the cells that line the intestines.
- Familial adenomatous polyposis or gastric polyps (non-cancer growths in stomach).
When it comes to prevention of cancer, the individual plays a greater role than the doctor, but after the patient is diagnosed with cancer, the doctor assumes the lead role. Timely detection is of utmost importance for treatment of cancer.