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.
- 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
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.
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.
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.
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.