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.