Stomach Cancer: Symptoms, Treatment, and Possible Causes
Stomach cancer begins when cancer cells form in the inner lining of your stomach. These cells can grow into a tumor. Also called gastric cancer, the disease usually grows slowly over many years.
If you know the symptoms it causes, you and your doctor may be able to spot it early, when it’s easiest to treat.
Scientists don’t know exactly what makes cancer cells start growing in the stomach. But they do know a few things that can raise your risk for the disease. One of them is infection with a common bacteria, H. pylori, which causes ulcers. Inflammation in your gut called gastritis, long-lasting anemia, and growths in your stomach called polyps also can make you more likely to get cancer.
Other things that seem to play a role in raising the risk include:
- Being overweight or obese
- A diet high in smoked, pickled, or salty foods
- Stomach surgery for an ulcer
- Type-A blood
- Epstein-Barr virus infection
- Certain genes
- Working in coal, metal, timber, or rubber industries
- Exposure to asbestos
Early on, stomach cancer may cause:
Just having indigestion or heartburn after a meal doesn’t mean you have cancer. But if you feel these symptoms a lot, talk to your doctor. He can see if you have other risk factors and test you to look for any problems.
As stomach tumors grow, you may have more serious symptoms, such as:
Your doctor will give you a physical exam. He'll also ask about your medical history to see if you have any risk factors for stomach cancer or any family members who’ve had it. Then, he might give you some tests, including:
- Blood tests to look for signs of cancer in your body.
- Upper endoscopy. Your doctor will put a thin, flexible tube with a small camera down your throat to look into your stomach.
- Upper GI series test. You’ll drink a chalky liquid with a substance called barium. The fluid coats your stomach and makes it show up more clearly on X-rays.
- CT scan . This is a powerful X-ray that makes detailed pictures of the inside of your body.
- Biopsy . Your doctor takes a small piece of tissue from your stomach to look at under a microscope for signs of cancer cells. He might do this during an endoscopy.
Many treatments can fight stomach cancer. The one you and your doctor choose will depend
on how long you’ve had the disease or how much it has spread in your body, called the stage of your cancer.
Surgery. Your doctor might remove part of your stomach or other tissues nearby that have cancer cells. Surgery gets rid of the tumor and stops cancer from spreading to other parts of your body. If your disease is in a more advanced stage, your doctor might need to remove all of your stomach.
Some tumors can keep food from moving in and out of your stomach. In that case, you might have surgery to put in a stent, a device that keeps the pathways open.
Chemotherapy. Drugs kill your cancer cells or keep them from growing. You can take them as pills or through an IV at a clinic. Chemo usually takes several weeks. The drugs can cause side effects, but your doctor can help you find ways to feel better during treatment.
Radiation. High-energy waves or particles can kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. Your doctor may use an X-ray or other machine to beam radiation at the spot where your tumor is.
Chemoradiation. Your doctor might use this mix of chemotherapy and radiation to shrink your tumor before surgery.
Targeted drugs. These newer drugs are different because they fight only cancer cells. Other treatments, like chemo and radiation, can kill healthy cells along with diseased ones. As a result, targeted therapies have fewer side effects than these other treatments.
Treat stomach infections. If you have ulcers from an H. pylori infection, get treatment. Antibiotics can kill the bacteria, and other drugs will heal the sores in the lining of your stomach to cut your risk of cancer.
Eat healthy. Get more fresh fruits and vegetables on your plate every day. They’re high in fiber and in some vitamins that can lower your cancer risk. Avoid very salty, pickled, cured, or smoked foods like hot dogs, processed lunch meats, or smoked cheeses. Keep your weight at a healthy level, too. Being overweight or obese can also raise your risk of the disease.
Don’t smoke. Your stomach cancer risk doubles if you use tobacco.
Watch aspirin or NSAID use. If you take daily aspirin to prevent heart problems or NSAID drugs for arthritis, talk to your doctor about how these drugs might affect your stomach.