St. Elizabeth’s Medical Center offers a high level of clinical expertise in preventing, diagnosing, and treating all types of cancer and tumors (whether benign or cancerous).
What Is Stomach Cancer?
Once food is chewed and swallowed, it travels through the body through the esophagus to the stomach. While there, food mixes with secretions, called gastric juice, then moves on to the top of the small intestine known the duodenum.
Stomach cancer happens when cells grow out of control as tumors anywhere in the stomach. Treatments can vary based on where the tumors are found within the stomach’s various sections and layers of muscle and tissue.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
Stomach cancer symptoms can include a poor appetite, fullness after a small meal, indigestion, stomach discomfort, blood in the stool, nausea, vomiting, unintended weight loss, jaundice, and/or trouble swallowing. While many of these are symptoms that may be attributed to other health problems, see a physician if they worsen or don’t ever go away.
People more likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer are men, over age 65, smokers, have a family history of stomach cancer, have had stomach inflammation or a Helicobacter pylori infection (which comes from a specific type of bacteria linked to peptic ulcers), and people who eat a lot of salty, smoked or pickled foods.
Several factors will help diagnose stomach cancer. They include:
- A medical history and physical exam
- Tests to check for anemia and/or blood in the stool
- An upper endoscopy test, which checks the inside of your esophagus, stomach, and part of the small intestine to look for areas that may not look normal.
- A biopsy, which takes cell samples of abnormal areas to be tested to see if they are cancerous, and if so, what kind. This can determine the best way to treat stomach cancer.
- Imaging tests, to see if cancer exists inside the body, where it may be, and to see if past cancer treatment has worked. These can include x-rays, computed topograpy (CT scan), endoscopic ultrasound, positron emission tomography (PET) scan, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)—all of which can look at different areas of the stomach to indicate the presence, location and number of cancer cells.
- Laparascopy, a test that will look inside the stomach to confirm cancer cells are confined to that organ only
- Organ function tests, to indicate your kidneys, liver and heart are working before potential surgery or medications.
Stomach cancer is typically found after it has spread beyond the stomach. Treatments will vary based on the type of cancer, its location, and how advanced it is. They can include:
- Surgery, including surgery to remove cancer from parts or all of the stomach, as well as other areas where the cancer has spread, or surgery to help stop bleeding from a stomach tumor that is large and cannot be removed entirely. This can help the patient feel more comfortable but does not treat the cancer itself.
- Chemotherapy, which are drugs that are either injected or taken by pill to try to kill any cancer cells anywhere in the body, either before surgery to reduce the size of a tumor, after surgery to ensure no tiny cancer cells are left behind, or instead of surgery if cancer has spread and surgical removal isn’t recommended.
- Targeted therapy, which is a group of newer drugs, can work in cases when chemotherapy isn’t effective.
- Immunotherapy are medications that work to strengthen the immune system to weaken and kill cancer cells.
- Radiation is the use of electromagnetic rays to destroy cancer cells. It can be used in combination with chemotherapy, on its own, before or after surgery.
Stomach cancer is often labeled under GI cancer. Learn more about GI cancer here.