Stomach Cancer: is it Hereditary?

stomach cancer

Some people might not know that a human being can live without their stomach. When a person is diagnosed with cancer, treatment options sometimes include removing the stomach. One support group called No Stomach For Cancer shares stories on their website of individuals who have needed to have their stomach removed. Having your stomach removed requires completely altering your lifestyle. While often not requiring medication, each day they have to consume enough calories to get through the day. Without a stomach, you can’t eat a lot of food at once- but rather small amounts throughout the day. If you do eat too much, you might get sick, which then leads to either not eating or losing weight. Your life often becomes consumed by nutrition and health. However, the ability to live without a stomach has saved many lives and most can have a long and “normal” life.

Facts About Stomach Cancer

Approximately 27,600 cases of stomach cancer will be diagnosed in 2020. Cancer of the stomach mostly affects older people, with the average age of diagnosis at 68 years of age. In the US, the number of new cases has decreased by 1.5% over the last 10 years. Until the late 1930s, stomach cancer was the leading cause of cancer death in the US. The explanation of the decrease in deaths is thought to possibly be from refrigerating food or from the use of antibiotics to treat infections.

The stomach wall is composed of 5 layers: from inside to outside, the mucosa, submucosa, muscle (muscularis propria), subserosa and serosa. Stomach cancer often develops slowly over many years. Before cancer truly develops, pre-cancerous changes often happen in the inner lining (or mucosa) of the stomach. The most challenging part of these cancers is that these pre-cancerous changes to the stomach don’t often cause symptoms and often go undetected. Approximately 90-95% of stomach cancers are diagnosed as adenocarcinomas, which is cancer that forms in the mucosa, or innermost lining of the stomach. The remaining 5% of cancers that affect the stomach are often rare.

Genetic Causes of Stomach Cancer

While the majority of cases are sporadic, there are forms of hereditary stomach cancer. Approximately 15% of these cancers occur in patients with a family history of cancer. Some of these cases are caused by a hereditary cancer syndrome. Lynch syndrome, or Hereditary Nonpolyposis Colorectal Cancer (HNPCC) is associated with an increased risk of colon, uterine, and stomach cancer. Hereditary Diffuse Gastric cancer is associated with a high risk of a rare form of cancer called diffuse gastric cancer as well as an increased risk for lobular breast cancer. Familial Adenomatous Polyposis, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome are also associated with an increased risk for stomach cancer. All of these conditions are inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means that there is a 50% risk for each family member to inherit the gene mutation associated with one of those conditions.

If you have a family history of cancer or a personal diagnosis of cancer of this type in addition to family history, it is recommended to meet with a genetic counselor. If a genetic counselor assesses your family history, you may qualify for genetic testing. If your genetic test comes back positive, a genetic counselor will explain what the result means and how to move forward. In hereditary cancer syndromes where the risk of cancer is high, it may be recommended to remove your stomach before cancer is detected.

Want to Know More? We Can Help

If your genetic testing comes back negative, it means that no known mutation in a gene was detected that explains your family history of cancer. It can mean that your family has a mutation in a gene that is not currently known, or your family could have a familial form of stomach cancer, which is a combination of genetics and environment. Regardless of your genetic testing results, meeting regularly with your health care provider and considering possible screening options is important to pursue throughout the course of your life.

If you would like to meet with a genetic counselor please contact AT-GC to schedule an appointment.

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