Stomach (Gastric) Cancer

What is stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer happens when normal cells in the stomach change into abnormal cells and grow out of control. The stomach is part of the digestive system. There are different kinds of stomach cancer, depending on the type of cells and part of the stomach involved.

Some people who get stomach cancer have a condition called H. pylori infection. H. pylori is a type of bacteria that can infect the stomach and intestines. It symptoms are belly pain, bloating, nausea, or vomiting.

What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?

Early on, stomach cancer might not cause any symptoms. But often, its symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Belly pain, especially in the upper belly
  • Trouble swallowing
  • Having no appetite, or feeling full after eating a small amount of food
  • Nausea
  • Feeling tired or short of breath (from a condition called “anemia,” which is when people have too few red blood cells)

All of these symptoms can also be caused by conditions that are not stomach cancer. But if you have these symptoms, tell your doctor or nurse.

Is there a test for stomach cancer?

Yes. Tests for stomach cancer can include:

  • Upper endoscopy – This is the test most often done for stomach cancer. During this test, the doctor puts a thin tube with a camera and light on the end into the mouth and down into the stomach. This lets the doctor look at the stomach lining.
  • Biopsy – Doctors do this test during an upper endoscopy. During a biopsy, the doctor takes a small sample of tissue from an abnormal-looking area of the stomach. Then another doctor looks at the tissue under a microscope.
  • Blood tests
  • Imaging tests of the stomach, such as a CT scan or ultrasound – Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.

Your doctor will also check for H. pylori infection. Doctors can do this in different ways, including breath tests, blood tests, and other lab tests.

What is cancer staging?

Cancer staging is a way in which doctors find out if a cancer has spread past the layer of tissue where it began, and, if so, how far. The right treatment for you will depend a lot on the type and stage of your stomach cancer and your other medical problems.

How is stomach cancer treated?

Stomach cancer is usually treated with 1 or more of the following:

  • Surgery to remove the cancer – During surgery, the doctor might remove part or all of your stomach. If the doctor removes all of your stomach, he or she will reconnect your digestive tract so that you can eat.
  • Chemotherapy – Chemotherapy is the term doctors use to describe a group of medicines that kill cancer cells. Sometimes, people get chemotherapy before they have surgery.
  • Radiation therapy – Radiation kills cancer cells.

Stomach cancer can sometimes be cured with treatment. This is most likely when the cancer is found at an early stage. But, often, stomach cancer is not found at an early stage. If your stomach cancer cannot be cured, your doctor can do other treatments to help with your symptoms.

If you have H. pylori infection, your doctor will treat it with medicines. This usually involves taking 3 or more medicines for 1 to 2 weeks. Treating the H. pylori infection will make the infection go away, but it will not make the stomach cancer go away.

What happens after treatment?

After treatment, you will be examined very often to see if the cancer comes back. Follow-up tests might include exams, blood tests, upper endoscopy, or imaging tests.

You should also watch for the symptoms listed above. Having those symptoms could mean your stomach cancer has come back. Tell your doctor or nurse if you have any symptoms.

What happens if my stomach cancer comes back or spreads?

If your stomach cancer comes back or spreads, you might have more chemotherapy or radiation therapy. You might also have other treatments to help with your symptoms.

What else should I do?

It’s important to follow all of your doctor’s instructions about visits and tests. It’s also important to talk to your doctor about any side effects or problems you have during treatment.

Getting treated for stomach cancer involves making many choices, such as what treatment to have. Always let your doctors and nurses know how you feel about a treatment. Any time you are offered a treatment, ask:

  • What are the benefits of this treatment? Is it likely to help me live longer? Will it reduce or prevent symptoms?
  • What are the downsides to this treatment?
  • Are there other options besides this treatment?
  • What happens if I do not have this treatment?