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After Toby Keith's death, here's why stomach cancer signs are easy to miss

Years before his own diagnosis, Toby Keith supported children with cancer
Posted at 4:38 PM, Feb 07, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-07 17:47:17-05

(WXYZ) — Country singer Toby Keith died on Monday after battling stomach cancer. His death has brought awareness to a disease that claims nearly 11,000 American lives yearly.

Doctors caution that symptoms are easy to overlook. Stomach cancer is also called gastric cancer. There are several types, and I’ve seen them all in my practice.

However, the most common type is called adenocarcinoma. It starts when cancer cells form in the lining of the stomach. If it’s found early, there’s a better chance of recovery.

The problem is that stomach cancer usually doesn’t have symptoms early on. But if they do, they’re easily dismissed because they tend to be innocuous symptoms like indigestion, stomach discomfort, heartburn, mild nausea, loss of appetite and feeling bloated after eating.

As the cancer progresses, it can spread to other body parts including the stomach wall, the body of the stomach or lymph nodes. More symptoms can appear like blood in the stool, vomiting, abdominal pain, difficulty swallowing, jaundice, unexplained weight loss and fluid buildup in the abdomen.

Toby Keith was diagnosed in fall 2021 and died just over two years later at the age of 62, which is considered relatively young. The average age when people are diagnosed with stomach cancer is 68. Men have a slightly higher risk than women, about 1 in 101 versus 1 in 155.

As for prognosis, that depends on the stage of the cancer, whether it's spread and a person's overall health. The five-year survival rate is 75% if the cancer is only in the stomach but drops to 35% if the cancer has spread.

There is treatment as Toby Keith mentioned. He had received chemotherapy, radiation and surgery. However, there are several treatments, and decisions will be based on the stage of cancer.

Regarding prevention, scientists are still uncertain about why cancer cells start growing in the stomach. However, factors such as infection with the common bacteria H. pylori, inflammation in the gut, stomach polyps and a specific type of persistent anemia called pernicious anemia can increase your risk.

To lower your risk, treat stomach infections, as antibiotics can kill the bacteria. Also, eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, cut back or avoid salty and smoked foods, limit alcohol and don’t smoke. If you have symptoms that worry you, be sure to discuss them with your health care provider.