About stomach cancer
What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer is an abnormal growth of cells that begins in the stomach. The stomach is a muscular sac located in the upper middle of your abdomen, just below your ribs. Your stomach receives and holds the food you eat and then helps to break down and digest it.
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, can affect any part of the stomach. In most of the world, stomach cancers form in the main part of the stomach (stomach body).
But in the United States, stomach cancer is more likely to affect the area where the long tube (esophagus) that carries food you swallow meets the stomach. This area is called the gastroesophageal junction.
Where the cancer occurs in the stomach is one factor doctors consider when determining your treatment options. Treatment usually includes surgery to remove the stomach cancer. Other treatments may be recommended before and after surgery.
What are the symptoms for stomach cancer?
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Signs and symptoms of gastroesophageal junction cancer and stomach cancer may include:
- Feeling bloated after eating
- Feeling full after eating small amounts of food
- Severe, persistent heartburn
- Severe Indigestion that is always present
- Unexplained, persistent nausea
- Stomach pain
- Persistent vomiting
- Unintentional weight loss
When to see a doctor
If you have signs and symptoms that worry you, make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will likely investigate more common causes of these signs and symptoms first.
What are the causes for stomach cancer?
In general, cancer begins when an error (mutation) occurs in a cell's DNA. The mutation causes the cell to grow and divide at a rapid rate and to continue living when a normal cell would die. The accumulating cancerous cells form a tumor that can invade nearby structures. And cancer cells can break off from the tumor to spread throughout the body.
Gastroesophageal junction cancer is associated with having gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD) and, less strongly, with obesity and smoking. GERD is a condition caused by frequent backflow of stomach acid into the esophagus.
There is a strong correlation between a diet high in smoked and salted foods and stomach cancer located in the main part of the stomach. As the use of refrigeration for preserving foods has increased around the world, the rates of stomach cancer have declined.
What are the treatments for stomach cancer?
If you have symptoms that suggest stomach cancer, your doctor will check to see whether they are due to cancer or to some other cause. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a doctor whose specialty is diagnosing and treating digestive problems.
Your doctor will ask about your personal and family health history. You may have blood or other lab tests. You also may have:
- Physical exam: Your doctor feels your abdomen for fluid, swelling, or other changes. Your doctor also will check for swollen lymph nodes.
- Endoscopy: Your doctor uses a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) to look into your stomach. Your doctor first numbs your throat with an anesthetic spray. You also may receive medicine to help you relax. The tube is passed through your mouth and esophagus to the stomach.
- Biopsy: An endoscope has a tool for removing tissue. Your doctor uses the endoscope to remove tissue from the stomach. A pathologist checks the tissue under a microscope for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if cancer cells are present.
You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having a biopsy:
- How will the biopsy be done?
- Will it hurt?
- Are there any risks? What are the chances of infection or bleeding after the biopsy?
- When can I resume my normal diet?
- How soon will I know the results?
- If I do have cancer, who will talk to me about next steps? When?
What are the risk factors for stomach cancer?
The main risk factors for gastroesophageal junction cancer are a history of GERD and obesity.
Factors that increase your risk of stomach cancer located in the stomach body include:
- A diet high in salty and smoked foods
- A diet low in fruits and vegetables
- Family history of stomach cancer
- Infection with Helicobacter pylori
- Long-term stomach inflammation
- Pernicious anemia
- Stomach polyps