Cancer that Occurs in the Stomach

Stomach cancer - also known as gastric cancer or gastric carcinoma - is rare in North America. Stomach cancer mostly affects older people - the average age of diagnosis is 68. It is often diagnosed at an advanced stage because it has few symptoms.

Most stomach cancers begin in the mucus-producing cells that line the stomach. This type of cancer is called adenocarcinoma.

The Gastrointestinal Oncology disease team specialists at the Penn State Cancer Institute are committed to the early detection and management of this disease. Our team includes not only doctors but social workers, nutritionists, physical therapists, psychologists and palliative care providers.

Treatment

Treatment options depend on how advanced stomach cancer is when it is detected.

  • If stomach cancer is detected very early and has not spread, surgery to remove cancerous tumors is generally recommended.
  • If the cancer involves deeper layers of the stomach and possibly the surrounding lymph nodes, surgery with chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells is generally recommended.
  • If the tumor cannot be surgically removed, chemotherapy and radiation therapy to destroy cancerous cells may be recommended.
  • If the cancer has spread to other parts of the body, palliative treatment options include chemotherapy, radiation therapy, targeted therapy, immunotherapy and clinical trials.

Symptoms and Diagnosis

Stomach cancer is cancer that starts in the stomach.

Symptoms

Common signs of stomach cancer include:

  • Fatigue
  • Feeling bloated after eating
  • Feeling full after eating small amounts of food
  • Severe, persistent heartburn
  • Severe indigestion that is always present
  • Unexplained, persistent nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Persistent vomiting
  • Unintentional weight loss

Diagnosis

Some tests to diagnose stomach cancer include:

  • Upper endoscopy. A thin tube containing a tiny camera is passed down your throat and into your stomach. This allows your doctor to look for signs of cancer. If any suspicious areas are found, a piece of tissue can be collected for analysis (biopsy).
  • Imaging tests. Imaging tests used to look for stomach cancer include computerized tomography (CT) scans and a special type of X-ray exam sometimes called a barium swallow.

The stage of your stomach cancer helps your doctor decide which treatments may be best for you. As cancer grows from the mucosa into deeper layers, the stage becomes more advanced and the prognosis is not as good. 

Tests and procedures used to determine the stage of cancer include:

  • Imaging tests. Tests may include CT and positron emission tomography (PET).
  • Exploratory surgery. Your doctor may recommend surgery to look for signs that your cancer has spread beyond your esophagus or stomach, within your chest or abdomen. Exploratory surgery is usually done laparoscopically. This means the surgeon makes several small incisions in your abdomen and inserts a special camera that transmits images to a monitor in the operating room. 

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