The stomach resides in the abdomen alongside other key organs. Sometimes, a lump in the stomach or stomach area is also, therefore, referred to as an abdominal lump.
What actually is the stomach?
Also popularly called the tummy or belly, the stomach sits on the left side of the upper portion of the abdominal cavity. Its main function is a receptacle for food and the commencement of the digestive process following swallowing and its passage down the gullet or oesophagus. Thus begins the process of digestion through the secretion of enzymes and acids which commence breaking down the material.
The stomach is muscular and contracts to churn the food rather like a washing machine. There are four defined areas, the cardia, fundus, body and pylorus after which the controlling egress point is named. The entry and exit point are controlled by sphincter muscles, the cardiac and pyloric sphincter. The stomach can reject contents it doesn’t like through vomiting or regurgitation. Not all mammals with stomachs have this facility.
What should you think if you have found a lump in your stomach above the belly button?
There are innumerable contenders for the origin of stomach lumps including ulcers and viruses that are transient and not terminal. But naturally, most people fear cancer when they detect a lump in their stomach above the belly button.
Lumps on the right side of the stomach
If you are not unwell and have no underlying disorders or illnesses, then the most probable trigger for this novel, unexplained lump on the right-hand side of your stomach, is a gastric polyp. A polyp is a clump or cluster of cells and is classified benign. Phew, breathe a sigh of relief! They grow in the lining of the stomach wall on the side of the stomach and may be flat, what is termed sessile polyps or feature a head and stalk a bit like a cauliflower – entitled pedunculated polyps. There are four main categories of gastric polyps:
- Fundic gland polyp – minuscule at less than 1cm on average
- Hyperplastic polyp – slightly larger, a common consequence for those who have contracted gastritis or inflammation of the stomach lining
- Inflammatory Fibroid polyps – manifesting as a hard lump and on endoscopic examination presenting as angry, swollen and red. This can cause blockages
- Xanthoma – these grow in the stomach fat and are small and pale yellow in colour
- Hamartomatous polyps – sit within healthy stomach tissue
The normal treatment for gastric polyps is removal via surgery. Not all operations require a surgical incision, for smaller polyps, these are dealt with through an endoscopic biopsy, similar to the procedure used to diagnose the polyps, its diameter and exact location. A gastric resection or gastrectomy is the cutting away of single or multiple polyps plus a portion of surrounding healthy tissue. Polyps that cause no pain, are small and without symptoms will be monitored and there will be no medical intervention.
Cancer of the stomach
Symptoms for stomach cancer are vague and hidden, often attributed to poor lifestyle choices. Indigestion, heartburn and trapped wind can easily be claimed by a diet of overly processed and fast food, smoking, excessive alcohol and infrequent exercise.
Over 90% of stomach cancers originate in the cells of the stomach lining and are labelled adenocarcinomas. They will not necessarily create a lump. Other symptoms such as feeling full after meals or a bloated sensation are likely to pique your interest first. Blood in the stools is another red flag requiring a prompt investigation.
What are the potential causes of a lump on the left side of the stomach with no pain?
This can be as simple and inconsequential as trapped wind or bloating, easily confused as it presents as hard as rock even though it is basically gas. A skin condition can create an abscess or cyst which whilst initially pain-free, certainly in the case of the former, will hurt once the infection increases. If the bulge is sited near the navel, a hernia is a popular cause of a lump on the left side of the stomach that is accompanied by no pain. All are eminently treatable and do not pose a serious risk to your health.
How does a doctor diagnose a lump he can’t see?
Diagnosis is achieved by the evident symptoms described by the patient, overall health history and by palpating the lump and establishing the exact location. Assessment includes whether the lump is immobile or in an area that moves and is relatively mobile.
A further exploratory investigation into the nature and causes are often prescribed in the hospital using an endoscope, a clever piece of kit which passes a tube and microscopic camera down into the lower stomach to harvest images of the lump. A small piece may be incised for laboratory analysis to confirm identification.
Delivered a baby by Cesarean Section? Have you recently discovered an abdominal bulge?
A protrusion after C Section procedure to deliver a child is not uncustomary. Swelling of tissue apparently emerges from the surgeon’s scar contemporaneous with the birth or arriving years later. A midwife should check this for herniation and it will require observation.
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