Abdominal cancer is a type of cancer that occurs when there is an uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells anywhere in the abdomen, the area between the lower chest and the groin. The abdomen consists of many organs, including the stomach, intestines, liver, gallbladder, pancreas, esophagus, and numerous blood vessels. Abdominal cancer is a general term for a variety of cancers.
Common forms of abdominal cancers include:
The stage of a cancer is a description of how far the cancer has spread. The stomach cancer’s stage is an important factor in choosing treatment options and predicting a patient’s outlook (prognosis).
There are actually 2 types of stages for stomach cancer.
The clinical stage of the cancer is the doctor’s best estimate of the extent of the cancer, based on the results of physical exams, endoscopy, biopsies, and any imaging tests (such as CT scans) that have been done. These exams and tests are described in the section “How is stomach cancer diagnosed?”
If surgery is done, the pathologic stage can be determined using the same test results used for the clinical stage, plus what is found from tissues removed during surgery.
Stomach cancers are usually found when a person goes to the doctor because of signs or symptoms they are having. The doctor will take a history and examine the patient. If stomach cancer is suspected, tests will be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
Medical history and physical exam
When taking your medical history, the doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms (eating problems, pain, bloating, etc.) and possible risk factors to see if they might suggest stomach cancer or another cause. The physical exam gives your doctor information about your general health, possible signs of stomach cancer, and other health problems. In particular, the doctor will feel your abdomen for any abnormal changes.
If your doctor thinks you might have stomach cancer or another type of stomach problem, he or she will refer you to a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in diseases of the digestive tract, who will examine you and do further testing.
General treatment information
Once your cancer has been diagnosed and staged, there is a lot to think about before you and your doctors choose a treatment plan. You may feel that you must make a decision quickly, but it is important to give yourself time to absorb the information you have just learned. Ask your cancer care team questions. You can find some good questions to ask in the section “What should you ask your doctor about stomach cancer?”
The main treatments for stomach cancer are:
Often the best approach uses 2 or more of these treatment methods.
Stomach cancer is when cancer cells begin growing in the stomach. Because stomach cancer is rare, doctors do not do routine screening in the United States. Stomach cancer is often diagnosed in its later stages because there are often no symptoms early in the disease. This makes it harder to cure. Stomach cancer is becoming rare as methods of preparing and preserving food continue to improve. Stomach ulcers, which are very common, are not the same as stomach cancer.
It is found mostly in people between their late 60s and 80s. Stomach cancer is more common in men than in women. The disease is more common in Hispanic Americans and African-Americans than in non-Hispanic whites. Stomach cancer is also more common in some parts of the world, such as Japan, China, parts of Southern and Eastern Europe, and South and Central America.
Certain factors may make one person more likely to get stomach cancer than another person. These are called risk factors. But just because a person has one or more risk factors does not mean that person will get stomach cancer. In fact, a person can have all of the risk factors and not get the disease. Or, a person can have no known risk factors and still get stomach cancer:
People with early stomach cancer, meaning it is small and has not spread, do not usually have symptoms or signs of the cancer. But, as the cancer grows, it can cause these symptoms:
A person should see the doctor if they are having any of these symptoms. The symptoms are most often a sign of something other than stomach cancer, but it is important to make sure.
To find out the cause of any of the signs or symptoms, a doctor does a careful physical exam and asks about the personal and family medical history. The doctor may also order these tests to make a diagnosis:
Treatment depends on the size and spread of the cancer. A person with stomach cancer may have one or more of these treatments:
Many people with cancer get a second opinion from another doctor. There are many reasons to get a second opinion. Here are some of those reasons:
There are many ways to get a second opinion:
There are two kinds of surgeries to remove stomach cancer. One kind removes only the portion of the stomach that contains cancer. This is called a partial gastrectomy. The other removes the whole stomach, and is called total gastrectomy. Which type a person gets, or if they get surgery at all, depends on the stage and type of stomach cancer they have.
A person who has surgery for stomach cancer will likely meet with a registered dietitian to discuss what they can and cannot eat during and after treatment.
After a partial gastrectomy, where only part of the stomach is removed, most people will be able to eat much the same way they did before. Although they may have to make some changes to the way they eat.
A person who has had a total gastrectomy has had their whole stomach removed. They still swallow and eat in the same way because their surgeon connects the esophagus to the small intestine. The surgeon may place a small feeding tube, called a jejunostomy (J-tube), into the small intestine at the time of surgery. Nutrition is given through this tube for a while after surgery during recovery. Diet changes are also needed after total gastrectomy. Most people who have their stomachs removed find that they prefer to eat small meals more often, rather than large meals three times a day.
Cancer research should give you hope. Doctors and researchers around the world are learning more about what causes stomach cancer, and are looking for ways to prevent it. They are also finding better ways to detect and treat this disease.