Stomach cancer is one of the deadliest diseases, and ranks second among cancers worldwide with at least 800,000 deaths yearly. But in the United States, the number of cases has been declining, except for among one group of Americans.
Glenda Reimer, her sister Sandy Wilken and Wilken's daughter Mallorie have come to the National Cancer Institute in Bethesda, Maryland to help scientists better understand the disease that has devastated their family.
"Our dad died at 75, our brother died at 50, our cousin died at 50," said Sandy Wilken. "She had young children. We get days that they did not."
For generations the family has suffered from gastric cancer. Glenda Reimer had her stomach removed after she was diagnosed with the disease.
Sandy and Mallorie Wilken opted to have their stomachs removed because the risk of the disease was too high.
For years researchers have tried to locate one single cause for stomach cancer. In Asia, parts of South America, Russia and other former Soviet bloc countries, experts think a higher consumption of preserved and salted food and poorly refrigerated food could be links.
Many studies also suggest that ulcers or polyps may stimulate the growth of cancer cells.
Dr. Charles Rabkin and other scientists from the National Cancer Institute looked at gastric cancer rates in the last three decades among a large group of Americans ranging in age from 25 to 84. Their findings confirmed an overall decline in gastric cancer, with one exception.
"The most important finding was this unexpected increase in gastric cancer rates in young U.S. whites," said Dr. Rabkin. "We did not anticipate that there would be an increase in this group and we believe it may be an indicator of a new risk factor for gastric cancer which has not yet been identified."
The surprising findings have shown a three percent increase in noncardia gastric cancer which affects the lower area of the stomach. The cancer scientists say this cancer often begins with an infection caused by a bacteria called Helicobactor Pylori, also known as H-Pylori.
"There may be either a new cause for gastric cancer in that population or perhaps some difference in their Helicobactor Pylori infection that's contributing to a new risk for gastric cancer," added Dr. Rabkin.
Until the mystery is solved, Mallorie Wilken is determined to live her life as normally as possible.
"It's not going to change me at all. I'm not going to let it," Mallorie Wilken stated.
The study was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.