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Mortality rates from gastric cancer, apart from those derived from Japanese series, remain poor. This paper sought to determine the present outcome of gastric carcinoma in a predominantly Chinese population in Singapore. Prognostic factors useful in predicting survival were also evaluated in this population.All cases of histologically confirmed gastric adenocarcinoma presenting in 1992 were entered into a prospective database. Prognostic factors related to age, sex, site of disease, depth of invasion, histological grade, nodal status and stage of disease were evaluated in patients with resectable disease to determine their utility in predicting survival.Of 131 consecutive patients with histologically proven adenocarcinomas, 37% had distant metastases at presentation predominantly in the liver (21%) and peritoneal cavity (20%). Sixty-four per cent of patients underwent surgery and in only 51% of these patients was resection of the tumour possible. Stages III and IV (T4N2) locally advanced disease were present in 38% of patients. Thus the majority of patients presented with late or metastatic disease (75%, stages III and IV). Sixty per cent of patients were alive at 1 year and 40% at 2 years after resection of the tumour (Kaplan-Meier survival plots). In contrast, no patient survived longer than a year if the tumour was not resectable (P < 0.001, log-rank test). Median survival of patients without surgery was 12 weeks. Median survival for patients with resected stage IV disease was 23 weeks, compared to 18 weeks after surgical bypass. Age, sex, site, depth of invasion and histological grade did not significantly predict survival. Patients with node-negative disease survived longer (2 years, 70%) than those with nodal involvement (2 years, 44%; P = 0.06, log-rank test). Pathologic staging with the TNM system was useful in predicting survival (P < 0.001). Sixty per cent of patients with stage I and II disease were alive at 2 years compared to 54% with stage III disease and 0% with stage IV disease.The prognosis of stomach cancer remains poor, due predominantly to late presentation. Pathologic TNM staging and nodal status were useful in predicting survival outcome after resection. If the tumour were resectable, survival was appreciable even in patients with advanced stage III (2 years, 54%) and stage IV (1 year, 40%) disease. Strategies to improve outcome should focus on early detection of gastric carcinomas.