How Serious is Cancer of the Stomach?

Daniel Catenacci MD

February 6, 2023

How Serious is Cancer of the Stomach?

Stomach cancer is a severe condition. It can spread to other parts of the body and is often fatal. Knowing what symptoms to look for and how the disease is diagnosed is critical.

The most common risk factors for stomach cancer include smoking, ageing and certain types of diet. In addition, family history and inherited genetic conditions also increase the risk.

What are the symptoms?

There are many possible causes of stomach cancer, so getting any symptoms checked by your GP as soon as possible is essential. This will help to make it more treatable.

Your GP may feel your tummy and ask you to give a poo or pee sample or do some blood tests. They may also refer you to a specialist for further tests.

Many people with indigestion, heartburn or reflux (a burning sensation in the chest after eating) do not have stomach cancer. This is because other conditions, such as a stomach ulcer or other health problems, usually cause these problems.

In the United States, stomach cancer is now less common than in years past. This is probably because more people eat less fatty, salty, smoked and pickled foods.

Most stomach cancers are called adenocarcinoma, which starts in the cells lining inside the stomach lining. This type often occurs in men and older adults, but it can happen at any age.

What is the diagnosis?

Doctors usually diagnose stomach cancer using a physical exam, blood, and imaging tests. They also may do an endoscopy or a biopsy.

The doctor passes a long, flexible tube with a camera on its end into your mouth, throat and oesophagus and then into your stomach. If any suspicious-looking areas are found, a small amount of tissue from the stomach lining is removed (biopsy) and examined under a microscope to determine if there is a disease.

Gastric adenocarcinomas account for the vast majority of stomach cancers. These tumours grow in the glandular tissue of the innermost lining of the stomach.

What is the treatment?

The treatment for stomach cancer depends on how far the disease has spread, your health and treatment preferences. It often involves a care team that includes your primary care provider (doctor), a specialist in cancer (oncologist) and a gastrointestinal doctor who specialises in the stomach and small intestines (gastroenterologist).

Your doctor may ask about your symptoms, family history and medical history. They might also perform a physical exam and order several tests to diagnose and stage the disease.

They might use endoscopic ultrasound, computerised tomography or positron emission tomography-CT scan. These tests help your doctor determine how much of your stomach has been affected and what is happening inside it.

Surgery may remove part or all of your stomach and nearby lymph nodes. This usually relieves symptoms of growing cancer and can sometimes cure the disease.

What is the prognosis?

The prognosis (outcome) of your stomach cancer depends on the type and stage of the disease. It also takes into account your age, performance status and treatment response.

Most stomach cancers are cured if they are found and treated early before they have spread to nearby lymph nodes or other parts of the body. However, this is only sometimes possible.

In rare cases, the disease may be fatal if not caught early. This is called recurrent or advanced gastric cancer.

Your healthcare provider will diagnose your condition by looking inside your stomach using a thin tube with a camera. They might take a sample of tissue to test for cancer.

Your healthcare provider uses the results of these tests to give your cancer a stage, which is a number from 0 to 4. This helps your healthcare team understand your chances of being cured. The stage is essential because it tells your healthcare team how serious the cancer is and what treatments are likely to work best.