Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, can develop in any part of the stomach and possibly spread throughout the stomach and to distant organs. Often, it occurs in the inner lining (mucosa) of the stomach. Stomach cancer rarely shows symptoms and slowly develops over years allowing it to go undetected until its advanced stages. It is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the world and mostly affects older people1.

Credit: American Cancer Society

What are the different types of stomach cancer?

There are different types of stomach cancer that affect different cells of this organ. Read more about the different types of stomach cancer.

What are some symptoms of stomach cancer?

In the earlier stages of stomach cancer, it is rare for symptoms to appear. Commonly, this cancer is mistaken for a stomach virus. Typical stomach cancer symptoms may include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Feeling full
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Nausea & fatigue
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Bloating of the stomach after meals
  • Vomiting blood or having blood in stool
  • Unexplained weight loss

How is stomach cancer diagnosed?

Physical Exams will focus on the abdomen to check for any abnormalities associated with stomach cancer.

Biopsy is the removal of a small portion of a tumor in the stomach that is microscopically evaluated for the presence of cancer cells.

Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body to take a closer look at potential tumors. For stomach cancer, these tests may include ultrasounds, computed tomography (CT) scans, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, upper gastrointestinal (GI) series, chest x-rays, and positron emissions tomography (PET) scans.

Endoscopic procedures are the examination of the stomach using instruments that are inserted into the mouth. For stomach cancer, these procedures include esophagogastroduodenoscopy (EGD) and endoscopic ultrasounds.

Lab tests for stomach cancer may include a complete blood count (CBC), tumor marker tests, fecal occult blood tests.

What are the stages of stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer is staged according to the AJCC’s TNM system.

The TNM system is based on 3 key pieces of information:

  • T describes the extent of the primary tumor (how far it has grown into the wall of the stomach and into nearby organs).
  • N describes the spread to nearby (regional) lymph nodes.
  • M indicates whether the cancer has metastasized (spread) to distant parts of the body. The most common sites of distant spread of stomach cancer are the liver, the peritoneum (the lining of the space around the digestive organs), and distant lymph nodes. Less common sites of spread include the lungs and brain.

What are the treatments for stomach cancer?

This stomach cancer treatment information does not outline the particular treatment(s) a patient will receive. Rather, it provides general information about the typical treatments for this type of cancer.

Primary treatment options:

  • Surgery may be performed to remove the cancer and part or all of the stomach and some nearby lymph nodes, depending on the type and stage of stomach cancer. Surgical procedures for stomach cancer include: endoscopic resection, partial or total gastrectomy, lymph node removal, and palliative surgery.
  • Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells. For stomach cancer, chemotherapy delivery depends on the type and stage of the cancer.
  • Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays or particles to kill prostate cancer cells. External beam radiation therapy is the most common radiation therapy used to treat stomach cancer.

Secondary treatment options:

  • Targeted therapy is a drug treatment that prevents the growth of cancer cells and protects healthy stomach cells from damage. Targeted therapies for stomach cancer include: Trastuzumab (Herceptin) and Ramucirumab (CyramzaTM)

What are the risk factors of stomach cancer?

  • Age: People over the age 55 are at a higher risk of developing stomach cancer.
  • Gender: Men are twice as likely to develop stomach cancer.
  • Race: Stomach cancer is more common in African Americans than Caucasians.
  • Region: Stomach cancer is more common in Japan, Korea, parts of Eastern Europe and Latin America.
  • Obesity: has been linked with an increased risk of stomach cancer.
  • Diet: Eating foods preserved by drying, smoking, salting or pickling increases the risk of stomach cancer.
  • Smoking: increases risk particularly for cancers of the upper portion of the stomach near the esophagus.
  • Type A Blood: People with type A blood have a higher risk of developing stomach cancer.
  • BRCA1 and BRCA2: People who carry the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes inherited breast cancer gene have a higher risk of stomach cancer.

How is stomach cancer prevented?

  • Maintaining a healthy diet, nutrition, body weight, and physical activity
  • Avoiding tobacco use
  • Taking an increased amount of aspirin 
Mikayla D. Williams , BS student, Nursing , University of Arizona
Michael Principe, MA, Information Resources and Library Science , University of Arizona
Works Cited: 
American Cancer Society (2014). Stomach cancer.
Works Consulted: 
American Society of Clinical Oncology (2014). Stomach cancer.
MD Anderson Cancer Center (2014). Stomach cancer.