More than 2,200 Australians were diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2020 and 1,140 died from the disease. Sadly, stomach cancer is often not diagnosed until it is at an advanced stage when it is more difficult to treat, and the five-year survival rate of less than 30 per cent.
What is stomach cancer?
The most common form of stomach or gastric cancer involves the growth of cancerous cells in the stomach wall to form a tumour. In most cases, this process happens over many years before it is detected.
Stomach cancer is more common in men than women and generally occurs in older people.
Stomach cancer risk factors
While scientists do not yet know the cause of stomach cancer, they do know the risk factors that lead to its development. These include
- Infection with the bacterium, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), is present in up to 90 per cent of people who have stomach cancer
- Gut inflammation, gastritis
- Long lasting anaemia, called pernicious anaemia
- Stomach polyps or growths.
Lifestyle factors that increase the risk of stomach cancer include
- Being aged over 50
- Being overweight
- Eating a lot of salty, smoked or processed food
- Eating too much meat
- Family history.
Reducing the risk of stomach cancer
The risk of developing all cancers can be reduced by maintaining a healthy weight, eating a balanced low-fat diet including fruit and vegetables, avoiding salty, pickled and smoked food, not smoking, exercising regularly and maintaining a healthy weight. In addition, treating stomach ulcers that result from an H. pylori infection will reduce the risk of developing stomach cancer.
Stomach cancer diagnosis
The main test for stomach cancer is an endoscopy, which involves inserting a thin flexible tube with a camera into your mouth to look at the digestive tract. Following a diagnosis, other tests, including a CT scan, ultrasound scan, PET scan, laparoscopy and bone scan will determine what the stage of the cancer.
Stomach cancer treatment
Treatment for stomach cancers depends on where the cancer starts. Treatments include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted drugs and immunotherapy. Sadly, because stomach cancer is not diagnosed until a late stage, surgery is not always possible.
Our stomach cancer research
Late diagnosis is one of the biggest issues in stomach cancer. By uncovering how stomach cancer develops and spreads, our scientists’ goal is to save lives thorough better detection and treatments.
Keeping stomach cancer at bay
Prevention and molecular studies. Some people with H. pylori infection develop a rare form of cancer, known as MALT lymphoma, in which white blood cells accumulate in the stomach. Professor Ferrero’s group has identified a protein that prevents the accumulation of these cells in the stomach. Ongoing studies are focussed on identifying novel biomarkers and developing new therapies against this cancer.
Development of a vaccine against stomach cancer
Prevention studies. H. pylori infection is the single most important factor causing stomach cancer. By protecting people from becoming infected, it will be possible to prevent the development of many cases of this cancer. Professor Ferrero’s group is developing a novel vaccine strategy against H. pylori infection to prevent stomach cancer.
A new therapeutic target for Helicobacter pylori-induced stomach cancer
Therapeutic target Infection by the bacterium, H. pylori, is a major factor in the development of stomach cancer. Professor Ferrero’s group showed that stomach tissues produce a molecule that reduces the inflammatory changes associated with cancer due to H. pylori infection. This molecule may be targeted in therapeutic strategies to treat inflammation-induced cancer.
Discovery of new mechanism behind stomach cancer
Targeted therapy. Improved treatments for a range of cancers could be possible following a discovery by Professor Brendan Jenkins that stomach cancer is driven by a newly discovered modification of a STAT3 protein, which controls the production of other genes that promote stomach cancer. Our scientists are hopeful that this important discovery will result in more targeted treatment for numerous cancers including stomach cancer.
What does the immune response in stomach cancer mean?
Molecular studies. While clusters of immune cells are associated with advanced stomach cancers in preclinical models, there is limited clinical information as to what these clusters mean for the growth of tumours and for survival outcomes of patients. It is hoped that further understanding of these clusters of immune cells will provide a vital piece of the stomach cancer puzzle.
Pro-inflammatory protein offers hope for a new treatment
Molecular studies Professor Brendan Jenkins has shown that stomach cancer progression could be suppressed by blocking key components of the inflammatory response, called ASC and IL-18. Work is now underway to trial the anti-cancer efficacy of new drugs that target this signalling pathway in the hope that they could offer a new way to treat stomach cancer.
Role of DNA sensors in stomach cancer
Molecular / genetic studies. Stomach cancer is associated with a dysregulated immune response. However, components of the immune system that promote stomach cancer are ill-defined. Using elaborate preclinical models for stomach cancer, as well as patient samples, Professor Jenkin’s aim is to reveal the role of a protein sensor of DNA in the immune system called AIM2 in driving stomach cancer. The outcomes will pave the way for new immune-based biomarkers and therapeutic strategies to be developed.
Inflammation and cancer
Molecular / genetic studies. The team is looking at inflammation-associated cancers (stomach, lung, pancreatic) and emphysema/chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) using a combination of molecular biological and genetic approaches alongside human translational studies. Their aim is to identify the mechanisms by which uncontrolled signal transduction from the interleukin (IL)-6 cytokine family, pattern recognition receptors (such as toll-like receptors) and inflammasomes lead to inflammation-associated cancers.
Stomach cancer collaborators
Support for people with stomach cancer
Hudson Institute scientists cannot provide medical advice.
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