Stomach Cancer Overview
What is stomach cancer?
Cancer is made of changed cells that grow out of control. The
changed (abnormal) cells often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cancer
cells can also grow into (invade) nearby areas. And they can spread to other parts
of the body. This is called metastasis.
The stomach is made of different layers. The mucosa is the deepest
layer. It makes stomach acid and the enzymes that digest food. Most stomach cancers
start in the mucosa. There’s also a thick muscle layer that helps mix up food.
There are different types of stomach cancer. They each grow in
different parts of the stomach.
Who is at risk for stomach cancer?
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having
a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors
can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in
your control. But others may be things you can change.
The risk factors for stomach cancer include:
Being in your late 60s or older
Being a man
Being Hispanic, African American, Asian, or a Pacific
Eating a lot of smoked, salted, pickled, and cured
Drinking lots of alcohol
Being overweight or obese
Working in the coal, metal, and rubber industries
You also have a higher risk if you have:
Blood type A
A germ or bacteria (called Helicobacter pylori) that causes
Had stomach surgery in the past
Low red blood cell levels because you can’t absorb vitamin
B12 (called pernicious anemia)
Stomach growths (polyps)
Long-term inflammation of the stomach lining
A disorder called common variable immune deficiency (CVID).
This hurts the immune system so that it doesn’t fight germs well.
Family members with certain conditions, such as:
Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer or Lynch
Breast cancer gene mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2
Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for
stomach cancer and what you can do about them.
Can stomach cancer be prevented?
You may be able to prevent stomach cancer by making some lifestyle
changes. These include:
Not eating much smoked, salted, pickled, and cured foods
Staying at a healthy weight
Not drinking alcohol or drinking only a little
Are there screening tests for stomach cancer?
There are currently no regular screening tests for stomach
cancer. Screening tests are done to check for disease in people who don’t have
What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?
The symptoms of stomach cancer vary from person to person. In
early stages, it may have mild or no symptoms. The most common symptoms include:
Feeling full or bloated after eating even small amounts of
Nausea and vomiting soon after eating
Diarrhea or constipation
Blood in your bowel movements (stool)
You don’t feel like eating
Losing weight without trying
Feeling weak and tired
Stomach cancer that’s more advanced can block your stomach or
intestines. This can cause vomiting that doesn’t go away. Stomach cancer can also
spread to your liver. If this happens, it can cause yellowing of your skin and the
white part of your eyes (jaundice) or fluid buildup in your belly (abdomen).
Many of these may be caused by other health problems. But it is
important to see a healthcare provider if you have these symptoms. Only a healthcare
provider can tell if you have cancer.
How is stomach cancer diagnosed?
Your healthcare provider will ask you about your health history,
your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. He or she will also give
you a physical exam. You may have a fecal occult blood test, blood tests, an upper
endoscopy, or an upper GI series or barium swallow.
A biopsy is the only way to confirm cancer. Small pieces of tissue
are taken and checked for cancer cells. The area may be numbed first with a local
anesthetic. Your healthcare provider will use a tool or small knife to remove skin
from the area that may be cancer. The samples are sent to a lab. Your results will
come back in about 1 week.
After a diagnosis of stomach cancer, you may have other tests.
These help your healthcare providers learn more about the cancer. They can help
determine the stage of the cancer. The stage is how much and how far the cancer has
spread (metastasized) in your body. It is one of the most important things to know
when deciding how to treat the cancer.
Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk
with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Be sure to ask your
healthcare provider to explain the stage of your cancer to you in a way you can
How is stomach cancer treated?
Your treatment choices depend on the type of stomach cancer you
have, test results, and the stage of the cancer. Other things to think about are if
the cancer can be removed with surgery and your overall health. The goal of
treatment may be to cure you, control the cancer, or help ease problems caused by
cancer Talk with your healthcare team about your treatment choices, the goals of
treatment, and what the risks and side effects may be.
Types of treatment for cancer are either local or systemic. Local
treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area. Surgery and
radiation are local treatments. Systemic treatment is used to destroy or control
cancer cells that may have traveled around your body. When taken by pill or
injection, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment.
Stomach cancer is treated with surgery, radiation therapy,
chemotherapy, or targeted therapy. You may have just one treatment or a combination
Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options.
Make a list of questions. Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each
option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a
What are treatment side effects?
Cancer treatment such as chemotherapy and radiation can damage
normal cells. This causes side effects such as hair loss, mouth sores, and vomiting.
Talk with your healthcare provider about side effects you might have and ways to
manage them. There may be things you can do and medicines you can take to help
prevent or control side effects.
Coping with stomach cancer
Many people feel worried, depressed, and stressed when dealing
with cancer. Getting treatment for cancer can be hard on your mind and body. Keep
talking with your healthcare team about any problems or concerns you have. Work
together to ease the effect of cancer and its symptoms on your daily life.
Here are tips:
Talk with your family or friends.
Ask your healthcare team or social worker for help.
Speak with a counselor.
Talk with a spiritual advisor, such as a minister or
Ask your healthcare team about medicines for depression or
Keep socially active.
Join a cancer support group.
Cancer treatment is also hard on the body. To help yourself stay
healthier, try to:
Eat a healthy diet, with a focus on high-protein foods.
Drink plenty of water, fruit juices, and other liquids.
Keep physically active.
Rest as much as needed.
Talk with your healthcare team about ways to manage
treatment side effects.
Take your medicines as directed by your team.
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Your healthcare provider will talk with you about when to call.
You may be told to call if you have any of the below:
New symptoms or symptoms that get worse
Signs of an infection, such as a fever
Side effects of treatment that affect your daily function or
don’t get better with treatment
Ask your healthcare provider what signs to watch for, and when to
call. Know how to get help after office hours and on weekends and holidays.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare
Know the reason for your visit and what you want to
Before your visit, write down questions you want
Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and
remember what your provider tells you.
At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and
any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions
your provider gives you.
Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how
it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the
results could mean.
Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have
the test or procedure.
If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date,
time, and purpose for that visit.
Know how you can contact your provider if you have