Thursday, April 18, 2024

CHRISTUS Hematologist/Oncologist Discusses Stomach Cancer Risk Factors, Treatment

by BIZ Magazine

The recent death of country singer Toby Keith, who was being treated for stomach cancer, has raised awareness of this less common form of cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, accounts for about 1.5% of all new cancers diagnosed in the U.S. each year.

Dr. Furqan Akhtar, a CHRISTUS Trinity Clinic hematologist/oncologist who practices at CHRISTUS Health Shreveport-Bossier, said there are several different risk factors that can lead to stomach cancer.

“A very common one is an infection called H. pylori, which can cause reflux-type symptoms,” Akhtar said. “Reflux itself can also be a risk factor and then you have common things people do, such as alcohol and tobacco, which also increase your risk for stomach cancer.”

Research shows a person’s diet can also play a big part in stomach cancer, Akhtar said.

“Especially processed foods and processed meats, including smoked meats and even red meat, to a degree,” he said. “So, all those are risk factors, along with genetics as well. There are certain mutations that lead to an increased risk of gastric cancer.”

Someone with stomach cancer might experience several different symptoms or signs.

“Some of the symptoms you might have include reflux type symptoms, indigestion, bloating, stomach pain, even nausea and vomiting,” Akhtar said. “Unexpected weight loss can be a big one, too. So, if you lose 10% of your body weight or more without trying, that can be an early sign of some type of cancer.”

Once a diagnosis has been made, treatment can begin.

“A lot of the treatment really depends on the staging but the mainstay treatments for stomach cancer are surgery and chemotherapy,” Akhtar said. “Thankfully, here at CHRISTUS we can easily do all of that. We have experienced surgeons that operate on these types of tumors and then all of us on the oncology side have a lot of experience with chemotherapy.”

Another treatment option, Akhtar said, is radiation.

“We can do this here at CHRISTUS and then there also is immunotherapy and targeted therapy, which we also can do here at CHRISTUS,” he said. “Whatever stage cancer you have and whatever treatment you need, we can address that here.”

CHRISTUS provides cancer care locally at two locations — Highland Medical Center in Shreveport and its new expanded location on Viking Drive in Bossier City.

Even after treatment, there is a possibility of recurrence.

“The later the staging that it’s found, the more likely it is to return so it’s very important to follow up with your doctors,” Akhtar said. “Here at CHRISTUS, we’re very vigilant about making sure we do follow-up scans and upper GI endoscopies or whatever else we need to do to make sure that if there’s any suggestion the cancer is back, we can catch it as early as possible.”

The survival rate for someone with stomach cancer depends on the staging, Akhtar said.

“Those with early-stage gastric cancer, if you’re able to have surgery and potentially chemotherapy at the five-year mark, you may have a 60% to 70% chance of surviving,” he said. “But once the stage gets to about three or four, it becomes much more dangerous and the majority of those patients, you’re looking at about one to two years.”

When it comes to prevention, Akhtar said the best thing to do is reduce the risk factors.

“You definitely want to cut back on alcohol and tobacco,” he said. “And healthy lifestyle choices are very important as well. So, eating less processed foods, sticking to more to fruits and vegetables and eating less meat are all important.”

Akhtar said research shows that processed meat and smoked meats are probably the main types of meat that can increase the risk of stomach cancer and other gastrointestinal cancers.

“There is a lot of evidence showing that red meat also is in that category as well,” he said.

Akhtar said if someone has any symptoms associated with stomach cancer, it’s important to visit their primary care doctor and get evaluated.

“Here at CHRISTUS, we can easily help take care of that from the very beginning, which is just addressing the symptoms and doing the workup,” he said. “And then if there is something discovered, we have all the tools and people necessary to help you through everything from diagnosis to treatment and even survivorship afterward.”

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