Stomach Cancer

What is Stomach Cancer?

Even though cancers of the stomach are not as common in the United States as colon cancer and pancreatic cancer, it is important to be aware of symptoms and see a doctor if you think you may be at risk. By far, the most commonly diagnosed type of stomach cancer (or gastric cancer) is adenocarcinoma. It starts in the cells lining your stomach and can spread quickly to different parts of the body if untreated. It is rampant among inhabitants of Japan and Iceland, possibly as a result of the high-sodium and nitrite diet practiced in these areas. In general, stomach cancer also seems to affect men more often than it affects women.

Am I at Risk for Stomach Cancer?

The risk of contracting stomach cancer increases after age 40, especially if you are a smoker. Contact a gastroenterologist (GI doctor) for a screening if someone in your family has been previously diagnosed with stomach cancer, pre-cancerous polyps on the lining of the stomach, stomach ulcers or other stomach-related conditions—as these will inevitably increase the chances that you will develop the disease. In some cases, anemic patients should also be screened for stomach cancer.

Unfortunately, many people who do live with stomach cancer fail to catch it early, as the mild symptoms which appear during its early stages are usually treated with simple over-the-counter medication. These symptoms include feeling fullness in your belly, feeling bloated and experiencing gassiness and heartburn. The more severe symptoms, such as blood in the stool or vomit and increased sickness usually do not show up until later. Any new onset of acid reflux, unexplained weight loss, or blood in your stool or saliva should be evaluated by a physician as early as possible.

In most cases, gastric cancer is only detected after a medical test, such as an anemia test (Complete Blood Count, or CBC test), a biopsy during upper endoscopy, x-rays of the upper GI tract and stomach and routine stool tests. Unfortunately, since stomach cancer isn’t a huge concern in the United States, the benefits of being screened regularly have not yet been determined—although studies show that screenings in Japan have lead to a significant amount of patients to be cured.

How Would I Treat Stomach Cancer?

Available treatment options for stomach cancer depend on where the cancer is located in the stomach and how deep into the tissue and into other organs the malignant cells have spread. To remove the cancer completely, stomach removal surgery (gastrectomy) needs to be performed. Although chemotherapy and radiation therapy may help control a patient’s symptoms, it will probably not cure the entire cancer. Once the cancer moves past the stomach, to other organs, the chance that a cancer patient will survive decreases greatly. Contact a medical specialist if you or someone you know needs helping with stomach cancer symptoms.


Reviewed 12/29/2011 by David M. Nolan, M.D.
Diplomate of the American Board of Internal Medicine, 2011
Currently a Fellow of Gastroenterology, at UCI 2011-2014