Stomach and Intestinal Cancers

By Shelby Wilson

A Watercolor Depiction of the Stomach
Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY

In present day, cancer is one of the leading causes of death around the world and in the United States. Of these cancers, gastric cancers are the leading cause of cancer related deaths. Gastric cancer specifically is caused by the cells of the stomach lining growing uncontrollably, causing tumor growth. Cancer treatment and research is a common discussion topic among present-day medical professionals. Cancers of all types are treated with surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation therapy. While there is no certain cure for cancer, research is ongoing. Anyone diagnosed with any type of cancer usually has an option for treatment; however, none of these options are 100% guaranteed to work. While patients today have options to choose from when managing their disease, patients in the past had no such option.


A Cancerous Lump Removed From the Stomach
Credit: St Bartholomew’s Hospital Archives & MuseumCC BY

According to Dr. Robert Martensen, cancer-related deaths and diagnosis in the United States and Europe have been steadily increasing since the 1800s. Dr. Martensen explains that this is because gastric cancers are more common among well-nourished and richer people. Many believe gastric cancer is a diet-related disease and this explains why more established nations suffer from the illness more than third world nations. As mentioned previously, many did not feel patients being treated for gastric cancer had much chance of survival. Dr. Martensen states that the focus of professionals who treated gastric cancer was originally on prescribing medication; however, as the years went on the focus shifted to surgical remedies. Surgeries were very dangerous at first; however, with education and time surgical resection became the most promising method for increased survival rate in gastric cancer patients. Different types of surgical resection include limited operations, endoscopic mucosal resection and the standard radical operation. These operations vary in the amount of tissue removed during the procedure. All of these practices have improved the survival rate of patients with gastric cancer; however, this disease is still the cause of numerous fatalities across the world.

A tumour constricting the entrance to the stomach. Oil painting, 18–. Credit: Wellcome CollectionCC BY


Gastric cancers were reported in the boroughs of London as early as 1924. During this era, cancer treatment and diagnosis was very similar to that of the modern period. A Medical Officer of Health in the Fulham region of London named Hewat Middleton recorded commonly reported symptoms of gastric cancer in a medical journal. According to his report, a sudden onset of pain, mucous or blood in the stool and bloody discharge that varies from normal are all symptoms of gastric cancers. Hewat explains that after surgically removing cancerous tissue, he believes there is a great chance the cancer will return; however, he believes life will be more comfortable for them than it was before.

Gastric cancer can be fatal and excruciatingly painful if left untreated. A study was done London in 1993 to determine if the way and time in which one is treated for gastric cancer affects the survival rate of patients. According to the report, the treatment of gastric cancer in London at that time had shown a less than five percent survival rate for patients. They also stated that gastric cancer was commonly too far progressed and had spread to other tissues at the time of diagnosis and was too difficult to be treated. The view of gastric cancer in London during this era proves to be very dim. Medical professionals feel as though there is no real chance for survival. The researchers in this study concluded that gastric cancer patients have a about a seventy-one percent chance of survival after a surgical cancer resection if the diagnosis occurred early on.

The mindset towards gastric cancer in the streets of London is pessimistic at best. While this may be the case, other areas of the world view the disease differently. 


According to the medical officer of health reports, many officers report diagnosis of gastric cancer in more men than women. In the year 1966 in the Greenwich borough of London, a report was made tabulating illnesses that affected different genders. The results of diagnosed gastric cancer are as follows; 37 men and 31 women.

Along the same lines, another officer tabulated the deaths caused by many different illnesses in the Borough of Hendon in 1949, including gastric cancer. While the previous table displayed only a slight difference in the correlation of gender and gastric cancer, this table displays drastically different results. At this time 29 men and 15 women were reported to have died from gastric cancer.

Similarly, the last medical officer report also tabulates data comparing the distribution of disease related deaths; however, this table also demonstrates the ages of men and women and the distribution of the disease related deaths. It is easy to observe that as age progresses in both men and women, so does the number of deaths. There is also a greater number of men who died a gastric cancer-related death than women.

Other medical officer of health reports compare the diagnosis/deaths of gastric cancer to other cancers and illnesses. Not all types of cancer are listed individually; however, of the ones that are, gastric cancer appears to be the cause of more cancer-related deaths. Another medical officer in the Hendon borough tabulated almost 30 deaths from gastric cancer in men and only 15 in women. In another borough, another medical officer of health recorded fewer total gastric cancer-related deaths. They even recorded more females than males having the disease. This may mean that some boroughs of London have a more prominent population of gastric cancer patients. Similarly, another report from the Beckenham borough displays that gastric cancer rates were lower in comparison to lung cancer during 1953; however, by 1958 lung cancer rates had tremendously decreased while gastric cancer rates had increased.

Gastric Cancer was one of the most fatal illnesses in the boroughs of London during the 1900s; however, the disease is only becoming more prominent around the world. The number of cases is constantly increasing. Cancer research should continue to improve the health and well-being of cancer patients.

Works Cited

MOH Reports:

MOH Fullham 1924

MOH Greenwich 1966

MOH Hendon 1949

MOH Coulsdon and Purley 1936

MOH Fulham 1943

MOH Orpington 1943

MOH Beckenham 1957

MOH Fulham 1924

MOH Ruislip-Northwood 1950

MOH Wanstead and Woodford 1961

Secondary Sources:

“Early Diagnosis of Cancer of the Stomach; Gastroscopy and Gastric Biopsies, Gastrophotography, and X-Rays.” JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, 1941.

Martensen, Robert. “Medicine, Surgery, and Gastric Cancer in 1900: Debating When to Go Radical.” JAMA: The Journal of the American Medical Association 277, no. 18 (1997): 1495.

Sue-Ling, H M, D Johnston, I G Martin, M F Dixon, M R Lansdown, M J Mcmahon, and A T Axon. “Gastric Cancer: a Curable Disease in Britain.” Bmj 307, no. 6904 (April 1993): 591–96.

Nishi, Mitsumasa, Shou Ishihara, Toshifusa Nakajima, Keiichirou Ohta, Shigekazu Ohyama, and Hirotoshi Ohta. “Chronological Changes of Characteristics of Early Gastric Cancer and Therapy: Experience in the Cancer Institute Hospital of Tokyo, 1950?1994.” Journal of Cancer Research and Clinical Oncology 121, no. 9-10 (1995): 535–41.

How Common Is Stomach Cancer in Women?” MedicineNet. MedicineNet, February 13, 2018.

Gastric Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)–Patient Version.” National Cancer Institute. Accessed November 10, 2019.