Stomach cancer

Specialty of Medical oncology

What is stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is cancer that develops in the stomach or the stomach lining. There are different types of stomach cancer, including:

  • Adenocarcinomas – stomach cancer that develops in the lining of the stomach.
  • Lymphoma of the stomach – cancer develops in the lymphatic tissue (the tissue that drains infection-fighting fluids).
  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs) – these form in the muscle of connective tissue of the stomach wall.

Prognosis of stomach cancer:

Depending on your age, overall health and the stage of your cancer, your outlook will differ.

In the UK, approximately 5000 people die from stomach cancer each year. Approximately 40% with stomach cancer will survive 1 year after diagnosis; 20% will survive at least five years after diagnosis and 15% will survive for at least 10 years after diagnosis.

Symptoms of stomach cancer:

Initial symptoms of stomach cancer can include:

  • Persistent indigestion
  • Trapped wind
  • Feeling bloated after meals
  • Stomach pain

Advanced cancers may have the following symptoms:

  • Blood in the stool or very dark, black coloured stools
  • Weight loss
  • Loss of appetite

Medical tests to diagnose stomach cancer:

If any of the above symptoms are experienced persistently, see a doctor as soon as possible. If your GP suspects stomach cancer, you will be referred to a specialist for further tests.

The following diagnostic measures may be used to diagnose stomach cancer:

  • Blood test
  • Stool test
  • Endoscopy to check for stomach ulcers or signs of cancer. A biopsy will be taken for further testing.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound can help confirm the stage of cancer.
  • CT scans
  • Laparoscopy surgery to provide a more detailed analysis of the abdomen.
  • Barium swallow X-ray

What are the causes of stomach cancer?

We are not sure exactly why the cells of the stomach change and become cancerous, but there are certain risk factors that can increase your risk for developing stomach cancer. These include:

  • Being aged 55 years of older
  • Being male – men are twice as likely to develop stomach cancer
  • Smoking
  • Having H. pylori infection
  • Eating a diet low in fibre, fruit and vegetables.
  • Eating a diet with lots of pickles and salted or smoked meats.
  • Family history – you are more likely to develop stomach cancer if a close relative has had the condition.
  • Having stomach ulcers
  • Having another type of cancer
  • Being overweight
  • Drinking large quantities of alcohol

Can stomach cancer be prevented?

Stomach cancer cannot be prevented, however, by controlling some of the above risk factors, where possible, you will be less likely to develop this condition.

Treatments for stomach cancer:

Treatment options will depend on your overall health and the stage of the stomach cancer. The primary treatments for stomach cancer are chemotherapy and/or radiotherapy. Surgery may also be recommended to remove tumours. The aim of treatment is to remove the cancer, either surgically or through conservative treatments. If a tumour cannot be removed then treatment will aim to slow down its growth. Certain medications are also used, including trastuzumab, which is a drug used to treat breast cancer as well.

Which type of specialist treats stomach cancer?

A multi-disciplinary team will treat stomach cancer, made up of gastroenterologists, surgeons, medical oncologists and clinical oncologists.

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