What’s new in stomach cancer research?
There is always research going on in the area of stomach cancer. Scientists are looking for causes and ways to prevent this cancer, and doctors are looking for better treatments.
Diet: Research has clearly shown that differences in diet are a key factor in stomach cancer risk around the world. Recent research has shown that diets high in preserved meats and low in fresh fruits and vegetables have been linked with higher risk.
Bacterial infection: Recent research suggests that certain types of H. pylori are more strongly linked to stomach cancer. Some factors linked to blood groups may also impact whether people with H. pylori infection get cancer or not. Further research is needed to help doctors figure out how to use this information to test which people might be at higher risk of stomach cancer.
Chemoprevention is the use of natural or man-made chemicals to lower the risk of cancer. The approaches below might be useful in helping prevent stomach cancer:
Antioxidants: These substances can destroy certain chemicals in cells called free radicals. Free radicals can damage parts of genes, causing cells to die or become cancer. Studies are now going on to look at the role of vitamin C, beta-carotene, vitamin E, and the mineral selenium as antioxidants. Whether these will be able to prevent stomach cancer is not yet known.
Antibiotics: Doctors are looking at whether using antibiotics to treat people who have chronic H. pylori infections will help prevent stomach cancer.
Aspirin and similar drugs: Some (but not all) studies have found that people who take non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) such as aspirin or ibuprofen might have a lower risk of stomach cancer. More research is needed to better define this possible link. In the meantime, doctors generally don’t advise taking these medicines just to try to lower your risk of cancer, as they can cause serious side effects in some people.
Sentinel lymph node mapping
This technique has been used to help see how far cancers like melanoma and breast cancer have spread, but doctors are now studying its use in stomach cancer as well. First, the doctor injects a blue dye and a radioactive substance into the cancer. The dye will go into the lymph nodes where the cancer would first spread. These nodes can be removed and looked at for cancer. If no cancer is seen, then it is not likely to have reached other lymph nodes, so they don’t need to be removed. If cancer is found, then all the lymph nodes will be removed. For stomach cancer, this approach is still in the clinical trial stage. It is not yet ready for widespread use.
Laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery
Laparoscopy is sometimes used to help find the extent of stomach cancer. Doctors are now studying if it can be used to remove small stomach cancers.
In this method, the surgeon makes some small holes in the abdomen, each about an inch long. Special long, thin instruments are put into these holes. One of the instruments has a small video camera on the end. The others are used to cut, staple, or sew sections of the stomach.
The recovery time is often quicker after this type of surgery. But it is not widely used to treat stomach cancer in the United States, and more studies may be needed to prove that it is as good as the standard approach.
Clinical trials are being done to test new chemotherapy (chemo) drugs or new ways to combine drugs. Other studies are looking at the best ways to combine drugs with other treatments like radiation. A good deal of effort is aimed at improving the results of surgery by adding chemo and/or radiation either before or after surgery. Clinical trials of these approaches are going on.
New ways of giving chemo are also being studied. For instance, some doctors are looking at putting chemo drugs right into the abdomen to see if it might work better with fewer side effects.
Chemo drugs affect cells that divide quickly, which is why they often work against cancer cells and normal cells, too. But there are other aspects of cancer cells that make them different from normal cells. In recent years, researchers have developed some new targeted drugs aimed at these differences. Targeted drugs sometimes work when standard chemo drugs don’t. They also tend to have less severe side effects than chemo drugs. These drugs are now being studied for use against a number of cancers, including stomach cancer. Most of this research is focused on combining targeted agents with chemo or with each other.
Immunotherapy is an approach that uses drugs to help the body’s immune system fight the cancer. Treatments that boost the patient’s immune system are being tested in clinical trials.
You can learn more about immunotherapy in our document Immunotherapy. You can read it online or call us for a free copy.
If you want to search for clinical trials in your area, contact the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 or visit us on the Web at www.cancer.org/clinicaltrials.
Last Medical Review: 03/18/2013
Last Revised: 02/11/2014