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Stomach Cancer

What is stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer is the growth of abnormal cells in the inner lining of the stomach.

Stomach cancer is also called gastric cancer.

How does it occur?

The exact cause of stomach cancer is not known. Several conditions may increase the risk of stomach cancer, such as:

  • infection of the stomach with bacteria called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
  • chronic gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
  • being male or older than 60
  • a diet high in salted, smoked, or poorly preserved foods and low in fruits and vegetables
  • a mother, father, sister, or brother who has had stomach cancer
  • a personal or family history of polyps in the stomach or small or large bowel (intestine)
  • pernicious anemia, which is a low count of red blood cells caused by a lack of vitamin B12
  • previous surgery to remove the end of the stomach for peptic ulcer disease.

What are the symptoms?

People who have stomach cancer have very few symptoms until late in the disease. Some possible symptoms of stomach cancer are:

  • heartburn or indigestion
  • stomach pain
  • nausea or vomiting
  • a sense of fullness after eating small amounts of food
  • loss of appetite
  • unexpected weight loss.

How is it diagnosed?

Stomach cancer is hard to find in its early stages because it causes few or no symptoms. Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and examine you. Tests may include:

  • A sample of a bowel movement tested for blood.
  • Blood tests.
  • An upper GI X-ray, for which you swallow barium. The barium coats the stomach lining and makes the stomach easier to see on X-ray film.
  • An endoscopy, where a slim, flexible, lighted tube is passed through your mouth and down into your stomach. This tube, called an endoscope, allows your healthcare provider to look in the stomach for abnormal areas. Your provider uses the scope to take a piece of abnormal tissue (biopsy) for lab tests.
  • CT scan of the abdomen, chest, and pelvis.

How is it treated?

The treatment depends on how far along the cancer is and if it has spread. Treatment may include:

  • surgery to remove part or all of the stomach
  • chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells with drugs
  • radiation therapy to kill cancer cells in the stomach.

If the tumor is blocking the opening to the stomach and the cancer cannot be completely removed with standard surgery, you may be treated with radiation therapy, with or without chemotherapy. The following procedures may be done:

  • placement of a thin, expandable tube (called a stent) from the esophagus to the stomach to keep the opening to the stomach from closing
  • placement of a tube in the stomach or middle of the small bowel (jejunum) so you can be given food and fluids
  • endoscopic laser surgery, which uses an endoscope and laser to remove or decrease the blockage by the tumor
  • electrocautery, which uses an electrical current to create heat and remove tissue or control bleeding.

If the passage from the end of the stomach into the small bowel, called the duodenum, is blocked by the tumor, the blockage may be bypassed by attaching the upper stomach to the middle part of the small bowel (the jejunum).

How long will the effects last?

The cancer may be curable if it is caught early and has not spread through the stomach lining. The cancer is usually not curable if it has spread beyond the stomach lining. Ask your healthcare provider what you can expect with the stage of cancer that you have.

How can I take care of myself?

  • Follow the full course of treatment prescribed by your healthcare provider.
  • Get a diet plan from a dietitian so you can have a healthy diet even if there are some foods you cannot eat.
  • Get plenty of rest. Ask your provider to recommend appropriate exercise and activities.
  • Join a cancer support group.
  • Be open with your family and your healthcare provider about your concerns.
  • Spend time with people and do activities you like.
  • Find a counselor to help you deal with difficult issues.

For more information, contact:

How can I help prevent stomach cancer?

Getting treatment for pernicious anemia, gastritis, or H. pylori, if you are diagnosed with these problems, may help prevent stomach cancer.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-08-04
Last reviewed: 2010-05-07
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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