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The stomach is located in the upper abdomen and plays a central role in digesting food. When food is swallowed, it slides down the esophagus, or throat, and enters the stomach. The muscles in the stomach mix the food and release gastric juices that help digest and break down the food. The food then moves into the small intestine for further digestion.
Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, begins when cells in the stomach become abnormal and grow uncontrollably. These cells form a growth of tissue, called a tumor. A tumor can be benign (noncancerous) or malignant (cancerous, meaning it can spread to other parts of the body). Cancer can begin in any part of the stomach, and it can spread to nearby lymph nodes and other areas of the body, such as the liver, bones, lungs, and a woman's ovaries.
Most stomach cancers are a type called adenocarcinoma, which means that the cancer started in the glandular tissue that lines the inside of the stomach. Other types of cancerous tumors that form in the stomach include lymphoma,
gastric sarcoma, and carcinoid tumor, but these are rare.
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In 2009, an estimated 21,130 adults (12,820 men and 8,310 women) in the United States will be diagnosed with stomach cancer. It is estimated that 10,620 deaths (6,320 men and 4,300 women) from this disease will occur this year. Most people diagnosed with stomach cancer are in their 60s and 70s.
The five-year relative survival rate (percentage of people who survive at least five years after the cancer is detected, excluding those who die from other diseases) of people with stomach cancer is about 25%. This statistic reflects the fact that most cases of stomach cancer are diagnosed when the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body. If stomach cancer is found before it has spread and surgery is possible, the five-year relative survival rate is about 61% but depends on the stage of the cancer found during surgery.
Cancer survival statistics should be interpreted with caution. These estimates are based on data from thousands of cases of this type of cancer in the United States each year, but the actual risk for a particular individual may differ. It is not possible to tell a person how long he or she will live with stomach cancer. Because the survival statistics are measured in five-year intervals, they may not represent advances made in the treatment or diagnosis of this cancer.
The incidence of stomach cancer varies in different parts of the world. Although it is decreasing in the Western world, it is still one of the most common cancer types worldwide.
Statistics adapted from the American Cancer Society's publication, Cancer Facts & Figures 2009.
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