Cancer Types | Stomach and Esophageal Cancers - NFCR

Stomach and Esophageal Cancers

Stomach and Esophageal Cancers

Stomach cancer (also known as gastric cancer) is cancer that starts in any part of the stomach and is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. Esophageal cancer is a cancer that develops in the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the mouth to the stomach, and is the eighth most frequently diagnosed cancer worldwide.

Key Facts

  • An estimated 26,560 new cases of stomach cancer and 19,260 new cases of esophageal cancer will be diagnosed in the U.S. in 2020, with about 26,710 deaths expected to result from these diagnoses.
  • Men are 2 times as likely to develop stomach cancer and 3 to 4 times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than women.
  • The risk of developing either stomach or esophageal cancer increases with age.
  • The lifetime risk of developing esophageal cancer in the U.S. is 0.5%, while the lifetime risk for developing stomach cancer is 0.8%.
  • The overall five-year relative survival rate in the U.S. for people with stomach cancer is about 32% and about 20% for esophageal cancer.
  • Both stomach and esophageal cancers are more common in other parts of the world, particularly in less developed countries.
Sources: American Cancer Society’s (ACS) Cancer Facts & Figures 2021; ACS Cancer Statistics Center; International Agency for Research on Cancer, 2020; and American Society of Clinical Oncology’s Cancer.Net

Signs and Symptoms

A symptom is a change in the body that a person can see and/or feel. A sign is a change that the doctor sees during an examination or on a laboratory test result. If you have any of the symptoms below, it does not mean you have cancer but you should see your doctor or health care professional so that the cause can be found and treated, if needed.

  • Poor appetite
  • Weight loss (without trying)
  • Abdominal (belly) pain
  • Vague discomfort in the abdomen, usually above the navel
  • Feeling full after eating only a small meal
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Nausea, Vomiting – with or without blood
  • Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen
  • Blood in the stool
  • Feeling tired or weak, as a result of having too few red blood cells (anemia)
  • Yellowing of the skin and eyes (jaundice), if the cancer spreads to the liver
Source: American Cancer Society’s website 2021
Periwinkle Stomach and Esophageal Cancer Ribbon
expected diagnoses in 2021
expected deaths in 2021
% survival rate for stomach cancer
% survival rate for esophageal cancer

Stomach and Esophageal Cancer Research

In addition to specific projects listed below, genomics research is helping us attack stomach and esophageal cancers – and all types of cancer. NFCR has distinguished itself from other organizations by emphasizing long-term, transformative research and working to move people toward cancer genomics.

Wei Zhang, Ph.D.
Wei Zhang, Ph.D.

Dr. Wei Zhang has devoted his entire career to the pursuit of precision oncology – specifically to the key molecular and genomic events that drive the development and progression of cancer. Over the last 20 years, Dr. Zhang and his team have identified multiple novel cancer markers and oncogenic signaling molecules.

The incidence of gastric cancer is high in Asia and other countries and it is increasing in the United States. In collaboration with the Tissue Bank Consortium in Asia and other scientists, Dr. Zhang led his team to analyze advanced genome-sequencing data from hundreds of gastric cancer samples and discovered defects in three cellular signaling pathways (BRCA2, Wnt and PI3-K-ERBB4). Several newly developed drugs that target these pathways have been tested in breast and ovarian cancers and may lead to improved treatments for patients with stomach cancer.

Dr. Ron DePinho
Ronald A. DePinho, M.D.

STAT3 is a major signaling protein in over 50% of cancers  and signals tumor formation, metastasis and suppression of our immune system. Developing a drug that targets STAT3 has been a challenge for the research community, earning it the label of ‘undruggable’.

Dr. Ron DePinho and his colleagues used computer-based drug screening of hundreds of thousands of compounds from chemical libraries to identify several inhibitors of STAT3 protein when tested in complex tumor models of various cancer types. With funds from the NFCR AIM-HI Translational Research Initiative, the scientists have brought the lead inhibitor agent to clinical trials to treat stomach and other advanced cancers, giving patients hope that their lives may be saved.

Xiang-Lei Yang, Ph.D. and Paul Schimmel, Ph.D.
Xiang-Lei Yang, Ph.D. and Paul Schimmel, Ph.D.

Aminoacyl-tRNA synthetases (aaRS) are vital ancient enzymes that make proteins in all living things. Dr. Paul Schimmel and Dr. Xiang-Lei Yang, experts in aaRS research, also study the enzyme’s other unexpected roles. One aaRS, SerRS, inhibits a pro-cancer gene and thwarts cancer’s growth and may play a role in activating the immune system to inhibit tumor progression. Expression of SerRS positively correlates with greater survival in patients with triple negative breast cancer and those with ovarian, colorectal, stomach, and thyroid cancers as well as gliomas. SerRS may also be a suppressor of metastasis as enzyme levels are significantly decreased in breast tissue during metastasis. This critical research may lead to a novel way to cancer, offering patients hope for a new therapy. SerRS level could potentially be used as a negative biomarker for metastasis, guiding selection of patients in clinical trials.

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5 Facts about Esophageal Cancer

Aside from the fact that it’s a tricky word to say, few people know much else about Esophageal Cancer—a relatively rare cancer. Esophageal cancer is cancer that impacts the 10-inch-long tube that connects the mouth to the stomach. That important track is vital to survive, and used daily, but esophageal cancer is shockingly referred to as a silent killer. Most people with esophageal cancer show no symptoms until after the cancer has spread. Understanding more about this disease can help people identify early warning signs both in themselves and in their loved ones. In recognition of Esophageal Cancer Awareness Month, the National Foundation for Cancer Research has compiled 5 lifesaving facts you need to know. Men are 3-4x more likely to develop esophageal cancer than women Men are far more likely to be diagnosed with esophageal cancer than women. Additionally, people between the ages of 45 and 70 have the highest risk of esophageal cancer. Though there are less than 20,000 cases in the United States each year, the survival rate is tragically low at 20%. Acid reflux, or esophageal reflux, may increase the risk of developing esophageal cancer According to a recent study, people with esophageal reflux disease, which also causes heartburn symptoms, have a higher risk of various cancers of the larynx (or voice box) and esophagus. Esophageal reflux disease, which affects approximately 20% of US adults, occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus and causes tissue damage. The research team estimated that approximately 17% of larynx and esophageal cancers were linked to esophageal reflux disease. Esophageal spasms are not linked to cancer Esophageal spasms are abnormal muscle spasms in your esophagus. Depending on the severity of the esophageal spasm, they may cause pain and may disrupt the movement of food to the stomach. As uncomfortable as esophageal spasms can be, however, they are not actually connected to cancer. Though not linked to cancer, they can cause other health complications. Symptoms of esophageal spasms also imitate those of a heart attack and confusing the two can be life threatening. Those who experience esophageal spasms should contact their doctor to discuss how to safely distinguish between a spasm and a heart attack, as well as potential treatment options. Esophageal reflux can progress into a serious condition called Barrett’s Esophagus If someone suffers from esophageal reflux for an extended period of time, it may advance to a condition called Barrett’s Esophagus. This is caused by esophageal cells being saturated in stomach acid for a long time. The cells eventually begin to thicken as a defense mechanism to withstand the acid. Barrett’s Esophagus is considered a precancerous condition and increases esophageal cancer risk. While not all people with Barrett’s Esophagus will develop cancer, it is important to monitor the condition. A sponge may be the future of early esophageal cancer diagnosing The Cytosponge is a minimally invasive tool that allows doctors to collect and assess esophageal cells. The mechanism is a tiny, compressed sponge packed inside a clear pill that is swallowed by the patient under the doctor’s supervision. The sponge then releases and expands. The doctor pulls the […]

FDA Recalls Popular Heartburn Drug Ranitidine: What You Need to Know

Medication commonly used to treat acid reflux and GERD pulled from the market after scientists find concerning levels of a potential cancer-causing substance in the drug. In April, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested that all medications containing ranitidine be pulled from the market after an ongoing investigation uncovered concerning levels of a potential cancer-causing substance known as N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in the drug.1 Also known by its brand name Zantac®, ranitidine is commonly used to treat individuals with acid reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). The recall included all prescription and over-the-counter (OTC) medications containing ranitidine. The National Foundation for Cancer Research (NFCR) understands that individuals who have taken or are currently taking ranitidine might have questions about this recall. Below, we answer some of the most frequently asked questions about this medication, the recall issued by the FDA, and how individuals can continue to manage their acid reflux or GERD. What is NDMA? NDMA is a common environmental contaminant found in water and certain foods. Although it does not cause any harm in small doses, NDMA may cause cancer in individuals who have been exposed to high doses over a long period of time.2 When did the FDA first identify NDMA in medications containing ranitidine? An independent laboratory first notified the FDA that NDMA had been found in medications containing ranitidine in 2019. This prompted the agency to conduct its own tests, which confirmed the presence of low levels of NDMA in ranitidine. However, there was not enough evidence to recommend whether individuals should continue or stop taking these medications. Recently, additional tests confirmed that the levels of NDMA in some medications containing ranitidine increase over time, particularly when the medicines are stored at higher than room temperature, resulting in individuals’ exposure to unacceptable levels of this potential cancer-causing substance. These new findings prompted the FDA to formally request that all medications containing ranitidine be pulled from the market in April 2020.1 What should I do if I have taken medications containing ranitidine in the past? If you or someone you know is currently taking a medication that contains ranitidine, the FDA recommends that you stop taking the medication, properly dispose of it, and not purchase more.1 Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the FDA recommends that individuals dispose of their medications at home, instead of taking them to a drug take-back location.1 For information about how to safely dispose of medications containing ranitidine at home, individuals can review the disposal instructions in their medication package insert or follow the FDA’s recommended disposal steps. Does having acid reflux or GERD increase my risk for developing cancer? Having acid reflux or GERD is a known risk factor for developing certain cancers, including esophageal and stomach cancer. Although esophageal and stomach cancer are rare, these illnesses can be devastating for patients who are diagnosed. Oftentimes, neither illness causes symptoms in its early stages, with symptoms such as acid reflux or GERD appearing only after the disease has advanced. Visit the NFCR’s Stomach and Esophageal Cancers webpage for more information about both of these conditions. If you are concerned about […]

Stomach Cancer Warning Signs: Understanding Your Risk

Stomach cancer is frequently diagnosed at an advanced stage because early symptoms are vague and often go overlooked. Learn what symptoms to watch for and steps you can take to help lower your risk. November is Stomach Cancer Awareness Month. Stomach cancer — also known as gastric cancer — is the fifth most commonly diagnosed cancer worldwide. In fact, it is estimated that approximately 27,600 new cases of stomach cancer will be diagnosed in the United States alone in 2020.1 One of the most significant challenges facing patients who are diagnosed with stomach cancer is that the cancer is typically not diagnosed until it has reached an advanced stage, as it sometimes causes no symptoms in earlier stages. Symptoms that are present can be vague and easily overlooked by patients and health care providers alike. Let’s take a closer look at some of the signs, symptoms, and risk factors associated with stomach cancer, and learn steps that you can take to help reduce your risk for developing this devastating disease. Stomach Cancer Signs and Symptoms Early symptoms associated with stomach cancer can include: Bloating Heartburn Nausea Vague discomfort in the abdomen If you have lost a lot of weight without trying, experienced severe fatigue, noticed blood in your stool or vomit, felt full after eating even a small amount of food, noticed a change in your bowel habits, or experienced other persistent, unusual gastrointestinal symptoms, you should make an appointment to speak with your health care provider.2 The good news is that stomach cancer is pretty rare, particularly in developed countries such as the U.S.2 If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, chances are it is another, more mild condition, such as a stomach virus, that is the cause. Understanding Your Stomach Cancer Risk Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterial infection is one of the primary risk factors for developing stomach cancer. Thanks to advances in diagnostic and treatment tools, H. pylori infections are now being found and treated much earlier than in the past, which has led to an overall decrease in the number of patients diagnosed with stomach cancer.2 Other risk factors that can increase a person’s chance of being diagnosed with stomach cancer include: Smoking Gender (men are more likely than women to be diagnosed with stomach cancer) History of being overweight or obese Previous surgery for ulcers Blood type (people with type A blood have a higher risk for developing stomach cancer) Family history and/or certain genetic conditions Diet high in processed meats Age is also an important risk factor. Historically, older adults have been at a higher risk than younger people of developing stomach cancer. However, a recent study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute found that the incidence of a type of cancer that occurs in the lower stomach (noncardia gastric cancer) has been increasing among some Americans, particularly women, under the age of 50.3 To help decrease your risk for developing stomach cancer, maintain a healthy weight and lifestyle with a clean diet that is rich in fresh vegetables.2 To learn more about the importance of a healthy diet in […]