What is stomach cancer?

Cancer is made of changed cells that grow out of control. The changed (abnormal) cells often grow to form a lump or mass called a tumor. Cancer cells can also grow into (invade) nearby areas. And they can then spread to other parts of the body. This is called metastasis.

The stomach is made of different layers. The mucosa is the deepest layer. It makes stomach acid and the enzymes that digest food. Most stomach cancers start in the mucosa. There’s also a thick muscle layer that helps mix up food.

There are different types of stomach cancer. They each grow in different parts of the stomach.

Who is at risk for stomach cancer?

A risk factor is anything that may increase your chance of having a disease. The exact cause of someone’s cancer may not be known. But risk factors can make it more likely for a person to have cancer. Some risk factors may not be in your control. But others may be things you can change.

The risk factors for stomach cancer include:

  • Being in your late 60s or older
  • Being a man
  • Eating a lot of smoked, salted, pickled, and cured foods
  • Smoking
  • Drinking lots of alcohol
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Working in the coal, metal, and rubber industries

You also have a higher risk if you have:

  • Blood type A
  • A germ or bacteria (called Helicobacter pylori) that causes stomach ulcers
  • Had stomach surgery in the past
  • Low red blood cell levels because you can’t absorb vitamin B12 (called pernicious anemia)
  • Stomach growths (polyps)
  • Long-term inflammation of the stomach lining
  • Family members with certain conditions, such as:
  • Stomach cancer
  • Hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer or Lynch syndrome
  • Breast cancer gene mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2

Talk with your healthcare provider about your risk factors for stomach cancer and what you can do about them.

What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?

The symptoms of stomach cancer vary from person to person. In early stages, you may have mild or no symptoms.

The most common symptoms include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Feeling full or bloated after eating even small amounts of food
  • Nausea and vomiting soon after eating
  • Vomiting blood
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Blood in your bowel movements (stool)
  • You don’t feel like eating
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Feeling weak and tired

Stomach cancer that’s more advanced can block your stomach or intestines. This can cause vomiting that doesn’t go away. Stomach cancer can also spread to your liver. If this happens, it can cause yellowing of your skin and the white part of your eyes (jaundice) or fluid buildup in your belly (abdomen).

How is stomach cancer diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask you about your health history, your symptoms, risk factors, and family history of disease. They will also give you a physical exam.

Some diagnostic procedures used include:

Endoscopy, which allows the doctor to see the area and take samples of tissues from suspicious areas

Small pieces of tissue are taken and checked in a lab for cancer cells.

After a diagnosis of stomach cancer, you may have other tests. These help your healthcare providers learn more about the cancer. They can help figure out the stage of the cancer. The stage is how much and how far the cancer has spread (metastasized) in your body. It is one of the most important things to know when deciding how to treat the cancer.

Once your cancer is staged, your healthcare provider will talk with you about what the stage means for your treatment. Ask your provider to explain the stage of your cancer to you in a way you can understand.

How is stomach cancer treated?

Your treatment choices depend on the type of stomach cancer you have, test results, and the stage of the cancer. Other things to think about are if the cancer can be removed with surgery and your overall health. The goal of treatment may be to cure you, control the cancer, or help ease problems caused by cancer. Talk with your healthcare team about your treatment choices, the goals of treatment, and what the risks and side effects may be.

Types of treatment for cancer are either local or systemic. Local treatments remove, destroy, or control cancer cells in one area. Surgery and radiation are local treatments. Systemic treatment is used to destroy or control cancer cells that may have traveled around your body. When taken by pill or injection, chemotherapy is a systemic treatment.

Stomach cancer is treated with surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, or targeted therapy. You may have just one type of treatment or a combination of treatments.

Talk with your healthcare providers about your treatment options.Think about the benefits and possible side effects of each option. Talk about your concerns with your healthcare provider before making a decision.