skip to main content
Main Site Navigation
Top of main content

What Is Stomach Cancer?

Stomach (gastric) cancer refers to a cancerous (malignant) growth in the stomach.

These cancers occur in about 7 people per 100,000 in the United States. They are more common in Japan (more than 80 people per 100,000). Most cases are diagnosed in people older than 65.

What Causes Stomach Cancer?

The cause is unknown, but certain things increase chances of getting this disease. Diets high in nitrates may make this cancer more likely. Nitrates (found in smoked and salted foods) are converted to nitrites by bacteria, and nitrites are cancercausing substances. Also, people whose stomach is infected with bacteria called Helicobacter pylori may have greater chances of getting stomach cancer. There is also a slight increase in risk if there is a family history of stomach cancer.

What Are the Symptoms of Stomach Cancer?

People with early stomach cancers may not have symptoms. As the tumor grows, people have abdominal (belly) pain, nausea, and loss of appetite. Other complaints are abdominal bloating after eating, trouble swallowing, heartburn, weight loss, blood in stools, a mass that can be felt, fullness in the stomach after meals, and fluid in the abdomen (ascites).

How Is Stomach Cancer Diagnosed?

The only sure way to diagnose stomach cancer is with a biopsy. The doctor uses a small lighted tube (scope) passed through the mouth, down the esophagus, and into the stomach (upper endoscopy). If the doctor finds abnormal areas, a sample is taken and studied with a microscope.

How Is Stomach Cancer Treated?

Treatment depends on how far the cancer spread (its stage). Surgery is the only chance for cure. Surgery includes complete removal of the cancer by taking out part of the stomach (subtotal gastrectomy) or near-total removal of the stomach with nearby lymph glands.

People with advanced cancer may have chemotherapy, usually a combination of different drugs. The health care provider will recommend that other doctors, including an oncologist (specialist in cancer), be involved in care.

Radiation therapy doesn’t work well for stomach cancer and may be used only to help reduce pain.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Stomach Cancer:

  • DO tell your health care provider about a family history of stomach cancer and recurrent H. pylori infection, which may be linked to stomach cancer.
  • DO keep your follow-up health care provider appointments. A team of doctors including your primary care health care provider, surgeon, and oncologist, will care for you.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have abdominal pain or blood in your stool.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have a fever during chemotherapy.
  • DO call your health care provider if you have pain or abnormal drainage around the incision after surgery.
  • DON’T ignore stomach pain or blood in the stool. These may be signs of serious problems.
  • DON’T be afraid to ask for second opinions.

Contact the following sources:

  • National Cancer Institute
    Tel: (800) 422-6237
  • American College of Surgeons
    Tel: (800) 621-4111

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor

Not sure which type of care is right for you?

We can help.