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What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer (also called gastric cancer) is the growth of cancer cells in the lining and wall of the stomach.
What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?
Sometimes cancer can grow in the stomach for a long time before it causes symptoms. In the early stages, stomach cancer can cause the following symptoms:
- Indigestion, stomach discomfort or heartburn
- Loss of appetite
When the cancer is larger, it can cause the following symptoms:
- Blood in your stool or stools that are black in color
- A bloated feeling after eating, even when eating a small amount
- Vomiting after meals
- Unintended weight loss
- Stomach pain, especially after meals
- Weakness and fatigue
Many of these symptoms can be caused by conditions other than cancer. However, if you have any of these problems and they don’t go away, contact your healthcare provider. The earlier stomach cancer is found, the better the chances are that it can be treated effectively.
CAUSES & RISK FACTORS
Who is at risk of getting stomach cancer?
Your chances of getting stomach cancer are higher if you have had a stomach infection caused by bacteria called Helicobacter pylori, which also causes ulcers in the stomach. You are also more likely to get stomach cancer if you:
- Are a man
- Are older than 50 years of age
- Have a close relative who has had stomach cancer
- Smoke cigarettes
- Abuse alcohol
- Are of African, Hispanic, Asian descent or a Pacific Islander
- Have stomach polyps (small growths in the lining of your stomach)
DIAGNOSIS & TESTS
How can my healthcare provider tell if I have stomach cancer?
If your healthcare provider suspects that you might have stomach cancer, they will look at your medical history and do a complete physical exam. Your healthcare provider might use endoscopy (say: en‑doh‑ska‑pee) to try to see the tumor. For this exam, a thin, lighted tube is put into your mouth and passed down to your stomach. Your healthcare provider may give you medicine before the test to make you more comfortable.
During endoscopy, your healthcare provider might remove a small piece of your stomach to check it for cancer cells. This is called a biopsy sample. The sample is then sent to a lab where it is looked at under a microscope to determine if it is cancerous.
How is stomach cancer treated?
Treatments for stomach cancer include surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these treatments.
The choice of treatment depends on whether the cancer is just in the stomach or if it has spread to other places in the body. A person’s age and overall health will also affect the choice of treatment.
Can I prevent stomach cancer?
There is no way to prevent stomach cancer. However, you can help reduce your risk of stomach cancer by not smoking and by limiting how much alcohol you drink. Also, eat a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, and make sure to get enough vitamin C. Vitamin C is found in foods such as oranges, grapefruit and broccoli.
QUESTIONS TO ASK YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
- I have a stomach ulcer. Am I more likely to get stomach cancer?
- Will eating a healthy diet help me to avoid getting stomach cancer?
- My father had stomach cancer. Should I be tested for it?
- What is the best treatment for my stomach cancer?
- Will I be able to eat normally after my treatment?
- After my treatment, will I have to come back often to make sure my stomach cancer doesn’t come back?
- During and after treatment, should I quit drinking alcohol?
FOR MORE INFORMATION
Canadian Cancer Society website:
Gastric Cancer: Diagnosis and Treatment Options by JC Layke, PP Lopez (03/01/04, http://www.aafp.org/afp/20040301/1133.html)