5 things to know about stomach cancer

(NEXSTAR) — Country singer-songwriter Toby Keith has died at the age of 62, representatives confirmed on Tuesday.

According to a statement posted to Keith’s Facebook page, the country star “passed peacefully” Monday night “surrounded by his family.”

“He fought his fight with grace and courage,” the statement continued. A cause of death was not listed.

His death comes more than two years after he was diagnosed with stomach cancer. At the time, Keith said he received his diagnosis in the fall of 2021 and had spent six months receiving chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. It’s unclear if he was still receiving treatment at the time of his death.

In September, Keith told E! News that his journey had been “a roller coaster.”

Here are five things to know about stomach cancer.

What is stomach cancer and how common is it?

Sometimes known as gastric cancer, stomach cancer starts like many others: cells start to grow “out of control” in the stomach, the American Cancer Society explains. It often develops slowly and can start in different sections of the stomach, causing different symptoms and even different outcomes.

According to the Mayo Clinic, in the U.S., the cancer is more likely to start where the esophagus meets the stomach. The Cleveland Clinic notes that in most cases, stomach cancer will start in the stomach lining and progress slowly. It can then cause a mass, or tumor, and grow deeper into the stomach walls if left untreated. That tumor could also spread in your abdomen.

While it’s the fifth-most common cancer worldwide, stomach cancer isn’t very common in the U.S. It accounted for less than 2% of all cancer diagnoses in the country last year, according to estimates from the National Cancer Institute. The American Cancer Society estimates roughly 27,000 new cases will be diagnosed in 2024, most of which will be among men.

Who is most likely to get stomach cancer?

While anyone can get stomach cancer, the National Cancer Institute says men are twice as likely to get it than women. It’s also diagnosed more often among Black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islanders and American Indians than among white patients.

The risks of stomach cancer increase with age, the NCI explains, adding that there are a number of other risk factors, but different factors can increase the risks of it developing in different parts of the stomach.

Other known risk factors, according to the Cleveland Clinic, include a family history of stomach cancer; becoming infected with Helicobacter pylori bacteria or the Epstein-Barr virus; gastritis, gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD; a history of stomach ulcers or polyps; excessive alcohol use; smoking, vaping, or chewing tobacco; obesity, and frequent exposure to coal, metal, and rubber. A poor diet — like one high in fatty, salty, smoked or pickled foods, or one that lacks fruits and vegetables — can also increase the risk of stomach cancer.

What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?

There may be no symptoms until the stomach cancer becomes more advanced, Cleveland Clinic and Mayo Clinic explain.

Symptoms that may appear include a loss of appetite, trouble swallowing, nausea and vomiting, unexplained weight loss, fatigue or weakness, heartburn and indigestion, black stool, vomiting blood, feeling bloated or gassy after eating, stomach pain (commonly above the belly button), not feeling hungry when you should and feeling full, even after a small meal.

However, health experts note these symptoms aren’t limited to just stomach cancer.

How is stomach cancer diagnosed and can it be treated?

There is no standard screening test for stomach cancer in the U.S., according to the NCI. Those who are at a higher risk of having it could undergo a screening with an upper endoscopy, which allows a healthcare provider to observe the esophagus, stomach and the first part of the small intestine.

Other testing can include an endoscopic ultrasound, radiologic testing (such as a CT scan or MRI), and blood tests.

How stomach cancer is treated can vary based on the type of cancer and how far along it has advanced. According to the Mayo Clinic, treatment options include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and palliative care.

Surgery can range widely. In the early stages, this could include cutting away “very small cancers” from the stomach’s lining. If the cancer is located near the small intestine, a part of the stomach may be removed. If it’s closer to the esophagus, the entire stomach may be removed, the Mayo Clinic explains.

What is the survival rate of stomach cancer?

The Cleveland Clinic reports that, in its early stages, stomach cancer can be cured. But, as it progresses, the survival rate can decrease.

“The 5-year survival rate for stomach cancer may be as high as 70% (for little spread) or as low as 6% (for advanced spread),” the healthcare system reports.

Treatments can help control the cancer and prolong life, even if it cannot be cured, the Mayo Clinic notes. Multiple factors can impact a prognosis, including your overall health and if the cancer is responding to treatment.

In 2023, the NCI estimates there were more than 11,000 deaths related to stomach cancer, accounting for less than 2% of all cancer deaths.

If you are concerned you may have stomach cancer, health experts recommend speaking with your healthcare provider.

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