Key Points about Stomach Cancer
- Stomach cancer can occur in any area of the stomach, but most often occurs where the esophagus meets the stomach.
- Doctors use imaging tests, biopsy, blood tests and physical exams to diagnose this type of cancer.
- Treatment for stomach cancer may include surgery, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and/or chemotherapy.
Stomach cancer is cancer that affects the stomach. It can occur in any area of the stomach. The most common place for stomach cancer to occur is where the stomach meets the esophagus, the tube that connects the mouth and the stomach.
Stomach cancer causes
Stomach cancer occurs when the cells of the stomach develop mutations (changes) to their DNA, and then the abnormal cells multiply out of control.
Stomach cancer risk factors
Factors that can increase your risk for developing stomach cancer are:
- Being a smoker
- Being obese
- Eating excessive amounts of salty, smoked foods
- Having a family history of stomach cancer
- Having a Helicobacter pylori infection
- Having gastritis (stomach inflammation)
- Having gastroesophageal reflux disease, or GERD
- Having stomach polyps
- Not eating enough fruits and vegetables
Stomach cancer symptoms
Signs and symptoms of stomach cancer can include:
- Feeling bloated after a meal
- Feeling very full after eating only small amounts of food
- Stomach pain
- Trouble swallowing
- Unintentional weight loss
Stomach cancer diagnosis
Your oncologist may use one or more of the following tests to diagnose this condition:
- Physical exam – your doctor will perform a complete physical exam – including asking questions about your health history, your symptoms and related risk factors.
- Biopsy – in this test, your doctor removes a biopsy (small sample) from the suspicious area. This sample is sent to the laboratory, where a specialist closely checks the biopsy for cancer.
- Blood test – your doctor sends a sample of your blood to the laboratory for close analysis. Lab technicians can determine how well your organs are working, which can indicate whether you have cancer.
- Computerized tomography (CT) scan – this type of imaging test provides a 3D image of the inside of the body that your doctor can use to determine the size and location of the cancer.
- Endoscopy – during this test, your doctor passes a thin, flexible tube with a camera on the end through your mouth and into your digestive tract. Your doctor uses specialized imaging equipment to get a close look at the inside of your body.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) – this type of imaging test uses high-powered magnets to create detailed images of the inside of your body. Your doctor can closely examine these images to determine the size and location of the cancer.
Stomach cancer treatment
Depending on your personal health history, the extent of the cancer and other factors, your oncologist may recommend one or more of the following treatment options:
- Surgery – you may need to undergo surgery to remove the cancerous area. Your surgeon will work to preserve as much surrounding healthy tissue as possible.
- Gastrectomy – if the stomach cancer is advanced or widespread, your doctor may recommend you undergo a subtotal (partial) or total gastrectomy.
- Chemotherapy – you may need to also undergo chemotherapy to destroy any cancerous cells that couldn’t be removed surgically. During this treatment, medication is used to destroy cancerous cells. Chemotherapy can be taken via an oral (by mouth) pill or intravenously (through a vein).
- Immunotherapy – this treatment works with your body’s immune system to fight the cancer.
- Targeted therapy – this treatment involves taking medications that target specific weaknesses of the cancerous cells, working to destroy them.
When should I seek care?
If you experience any of these symptoms, start by voicing your concerns and symptoms to your primary care provider. From there, your doctor may suggest seeing an oncologist for more specialized treatment.