How Do I Know If I Have Stomach Cancer
Your doctor may identify signs of stomach cancer, such as enlarged lymph nodes or liver, increased fluid in the abdomen , or bumps in or under the skin of the abdomen during a physical exam. These signs typically indicate an advanced cancer.
If you complain of vague symptoms such as persistent indigestion, pain, difficulty swallowing, weight loss, nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite, your doctor should order tests. These may include:
Upper GI series. These are X-rays of the esophagus and stomach, which is called the upper gastrointestinal tract. You drink a barium solution, which outlines the stomach on the X-ray, helping the doctor see tumors or other abnormalities.
Endoscopy and biopsy. This test examines the esophagus and stomach using a thin, lighted tube called an endoscope, which is passed through the mouth to the stomach. Through the endoscope, the doctor can look directly at the inside of the stomach. If an abnormal area is found, the doctor will remove some tissue to be examined under a microscope . A biopsy is the only sure way to diagnose cancer. Endoscopy and biopsy are the best methods of identifying stomach cancer.
Endoscopic ultrasound. This test can determine the depth of invasion of the tumor and evaluate lymph nodes around the cancer.
Additional staging tests. In order to determine the severity of stomach cancer, other tests such as a bone scan, PET scan, or laparoscopy may be performed.
How Is Stomach Cancer Treated
There are several approaches to treating stomach cancer. In many cases, surgery can be avoided.
In the early stages when the cancer is limited to the superficial layers of the stomach, the cancer can be removed through an upper endoscopy performed by a gastroenterologist. In this procedure , the tumor is dissected from the rest of the gastric wall and removed through the mouth.
Once the tumor invades beyond the superficial layers of the stomach, surgery will be required to remove the stomach and connect the esophagus to the small intestines to allow for digestion.
Radiation therapy uses high-powered beams of energy to kill cancer cells. Chemotherapy uses chemicals to kill the cancer cells. These treatments are generally combined.
There are also several drugs to treat stomach cancer. Treatment depends on how severe the cancer is and is decided upon by a doctor after diagnosis.
How Is Stomach Cancer Diagnosed
Several different tests can be used to help diagnose stomach cancer.
- Radiologic tests like a CT scan, barium swallow and MRI can help identify a problem in the stomach if the tumor is large enough.
- An upper endoscopy is used to take a biopsy of the lesion to make the diagnosis or to detect early cancer before a mass is large enough to be seen on radiologic tests. An upper endoscopy is performed by inserting a thin tube with a tiny camera through the mouth and into the stomach, where biopsies are obtained from the tumor.
- To find out how much of the stomach wall a tumor involves and to help assess the stage of the cancer, a doctor will order an endoscopic ultrasound, which uses a special type of endoscope that has an ultrasound probe. The endoscope is placed in the stomach through the mouth. The ultrasound probe is able to look through the surface of the stomach lining to the stomach wall beyond and see how much of the stomach is involved by the tumor.
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Tests That Examine The Stomach And Esophagus Are Used To Diagnose Gastric Cancer
The following tests and procedures may be used:
- Physical exam and health history: An exam of the body to check general signs of health, including checking for signs of disease, such as lumps or anything else that seems unusual. A history of the patients health habits and past illnesses and treatments will also be taken.
- Blood chemistry studies: A procedure in which a blood sample is checked to measure the amounts of certain substances released into the blood by organs and tissues in the body. An unusual amount of a substance can be a sign of disease.
- Complete blood count : A procedure in which a sample of blood is drawn and checked for the following:
- The amount of hemoglobin in the red blood cells.
- The portion of the sample made up of red blood cells.
Tests For Small Intestine Cancer
Small intestine cancers are often found because of signs or symptoms a person is having. But these symptoms arent usually enough to know for sure if a person has a small intestine cancer or some other type of health problem. If a tumor is suspected, exams and tests will be needed to confirm the diagnosis.
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What Are The Treatments For Stomach Cancer
Treatments for stomach cancer may include one or more of the following:
- Surgery, called gastrectomy, removes all or part of the stomach, as well as some of the tissue surrounding the stomach. Lymph nodes near the stomach are also removed and biopsied to check for cancer cells. For stage zero through stage 3 stomach cancer, surgery provides the only real chance for a cure at this time.
- Chemotherapyis the use of anticancer drugs. This may be used before and after surgery or for cancers that have spread to other organs. Prior to surgery, chemotherapy — with or without radiation — is sometimes used to shrink the tumor or to make an inoperable tumor suitable for surgery .
- Radiation therapyis the use of ionizing X-rays to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. This is used with chemotherapy before or after surgery and sometimes both. It can also be used to relieve symptoms in those with localized cancer or to relieve localized symptoms in persons whose cancer has metastasized .
If treated at an early stage before it spreads, stomach cancer may be associated with a long survival. A patient whose tumor is removed completely has a good chance of surviving at least five years. Unfortunately, by the time most cases of stomach cancer are diagnosed, the cancer has spread to local lymph nodes or other organs. Only about one in five patients diagnosed with stomach cancer that has spread to other organs or lymph nodes will survive five years.
How Long Can Stomach Cancer Go Undetected
While stomach cancer is relatively rare when compared to other types of cancer, it is difficult to detect in its early stages because it often produces no symptoms. As the cancer progresses, the symptoms that do appear can be misdiagnosed as normal gastrointestinal issues. As a result, stomach cancer can go undetected for years before the symptoms become concerning enough to warrant diagnostic testing.
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Medical History Physical Exam And Tests To Look For Bleeding
When taking your medical history, the doctor will ask about your symptoms and possible risk factors to see if they might suggest stomach cancer or another cause. The physical examcan give your doctor information about possible signs of stomach cancer or other health problems. In particular, the doctor will feel your belly for anything abnormal.
The doctor might order a blood test to look for anemia , which could be caused by the cancer bleeding into the stomach. A test might also be done to look for blood in your stool that can’t be seen by the naked eye, which could also be a sign of bleeding in the stomach.
If your doctor thinks you might have stomach cancer or another type of stomach problem, he or she will likely refer you to a gastroenterologist , who will examine you and might do further testing.
Living With Advanced Cancer
Advanced cancer usually means cancer that is unlikely to be cured. Some people can live for many months or years with advanced cancer. During this time palliative care services can help.
Most people continue to have treatment for advanced cancer as part of palliative care, as it helps manage the cancer and improve their day-to-day lives. Many people think that palliative care is for people who are dying but palliative care is for any stage of advanced cancer. There are doctors, nurses and other people who specialise in palliative care.
Treatment may include chemotherapy, radiation therapy or another type of treatment. It can help in these ways:
- Slow down how fast the cancer is growing.
- Shrink the cancer.
- Help you to live more comfortably by managing symptoms, like pain.
Treatment depends on:
- How far it has spread.
- Your general health.
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Moffitt Cancer Centers Approach To Stomach Cancer
Moffitt Cancer Center offers diagnostics and treatment for stomach cancer. Our specialists can assess your symptoms and conduct the diagnostic testing you need. If stomach cancer is diagnosed, we will develop an individualized treatment plan tailored to your unique needs. Treatment for stomach cancer often involves surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and/or molecularly targeted therapy. The physicians in our Gastrointestinal Oncology Program focus exclusively on cancers of the GI tract and provide a unique level of experience for our patients. They work alongside our supportive care specialists, who help patients through the emotional challenges of cancer treatment. This well-rounded level of care helps our patients achieve positive outcomes and improved quality of life.
To request a consultation at Moffitt, call or submit a new patient registration form online.
Signs And Symptoms Of Stomach Cancer
Early-stage stomach cancer rarely causes symptoms. In countries where screening for stomach cancer is not routine, such as the United States, most stomach cancers arent found until theyve grown fairly large or have spread outside the stomach.
When stomach cancer does cause signs and symptoms, they can include:
- Poor appetite
- Vague discomfort in the abdomen, usually above the navel
- Feeling full after eating only a small meal
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Vomiting, with or without blood
- Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen
- Blood in the stool
- Feeling tired or weak, as a result of having too few red blood cells
- Yellowing of the skin and eyes , if the cancer spreads to the liver
Most of these symptoms are more likely to be caused by things other than stomach cancer, such as a viral infection or an ulcer. Some of these symptoms may also be caused by other types of cancer. But people who have any of these problems, especially if they dont go away or get worse, should see a doctor so the cause can be found and treated, if needed.
Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.
Ku GY, Ilson DH. Chapter 72: Cancer of the Stomach. In: Niederhuber JE, Armitage JO, Doroshow JH, Kastan MB, Tepper JE, eds. Abeloffs Clinical Oncology. 6th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier 2020.
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How Is It Diagnosed
Since people with stomach cancer rarely show symptoms in the early stages, the disease is often not diagnosed until its more advanced.
To make a diagnosis, your doctor will first perform a physical exam to check for any abnormalities. They may also order a blood test, including a test for the presence of H. pylori bacteria.
More diagnostic tests will need to be done if your doctor believes that you show signs of stomach cancer. Diagnostic tests specifically look for suspected tumors and other abnormalities in the stomach and esophagus. These tests may include:
- an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy
Surgery To Ease Your Symptoms
If your stomach cancer has spread beyond your stomach, it may not be possible to remove it using surgery.
However, if your stomach has been significantly affected by cancer it can cause a blockage, which prevents food from being properly digested. A blocked stomach can cause symptoms such as stomach pain, vomiting and feeling very full after eating.
If your stomach is blocked, there are a few options:
- stenting a stent is a plastic or wire mesh tube inserted through the oesophagus using an endoscope under local anaesthetic after being inserted, the stent will be expanded and open up the stomach
- partial or total gastrectomy to remove the blockage and improve your symptoms
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There Are Three Ways That Cancer Spreads In The Body
Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:
- Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
- Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
- Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.
Side Effects Of Stomach Cancer Treatments
All cancer treatments can have side effects. Your treatment team will discuss these with you before you start treatment. Talk to your doctor or nurse about any side effects you are experiencing.
Some side effects can be upsetting and difficult, but there is help if you need it. Call Cancer Council Victoria Tel. or email to speak with a caring cancer nurse for support.
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Screening For Stomach Cancer
Unfortunately, theres no recommended screening test for spotting earlygastric cancer in the general population. However, Ngamruengphong saysdoctors use upper endoscopy to screen for and detect stomach cancer inpeople at high risk for developing the disease.
Theres no standard guideline on who to screen for stomach cancer, so webase screening recommendations on patients risk for developing thiscancer. Based on what we find, we determine how often patients shouldundergo follow-up screenings, she says.
Factors that Ngamruengphong considers when identifying at-risk patientsinclude:
- Ethnicity : First- and second-generation immigrants from East Asia, Russia and South America are considered higher risk. Those areas see more cases of stomach cancer than the United States.
- Family history : Having a family member with stomach cancer increases risk.
- Race : Non-Caucasians are at higher risk.
- Smoking history : Smoking increases the risk of stomach cancer.
- Physical health and genetics : Certain types of gastric infection and hereditary syndromes, such as Lynch syndrome and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome, also increase stomach cancer risk.
How Can I Prevent Stomach Cancer
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. Theyâre 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.
Donât 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.
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Can Endoscopy Detect Diffuse Gastric Cancer
Unfortunately, the stomach cancers in hereditary diffuse gastric cancer syndrome often cannot be seen during endoscopy. Endoscopy can also be used as part of a special imaging test known as endoscopic ultrasound, which is described below. This test is usually done after you are given medication to make you sleepy .
Prognosis: Life Expectancy For Dogs With Stomach Cancer
Unfortunately, the prognosis for dogs diagnosed with malignant stomach tumors is not positive, as in most cases, the cancer has already progressed to advanced stages.
The most common tumor, gastric adenocarcinoma, carries a guarded prognosis as the cancer has often already begun to metastasize at the time of diagnosis. Overall survival times are commonly less than 6 months, with the possibility of the tumors growing back after treatment.
Dogs with gastric leiomyosarcoma can potentially be cured with surgery alone, but survival rates are similar to those of gastric adenocarcinoma when diagnosed in the advanced stages.
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How Endoscopy Detects Stomach Cancer
In the early stages ofstomach cancer, many patients experience few or no symptoms. Because the lack of symptomsmakes stomach cancer difficult to detect, doctors often diagnose thedisease at more advanced stages. By that point, it is more challenging totreat.
Johns Hopkins gastroenterologistSaowanee Ngamruengphong, M.D., explains how doctors look at the stomach lining without performingsurgery. The endoscopic procedure helps screen high-risk patients anddiagnose this disease earlier.
What Makes Endoscopy So Effective
Even with an endoscope, it can be difficult to distinguish cancerouslesions from healthy or scarred stomach tissue.
Ngamruengphong explains why: When we perform a screening endoscopy, wedont see a large mass when cancer is present. Instead, we often see verysmall, very subtle lesions.
Doctors with extensive experience using this screening tool can more easilyspot the subtleties of very early stomach cancer. With the help of recentendoscopic technology advances such as high-quality images and dyes,doctors can detect cancer at even earlier stages.
The combination of experienced doctors and sophisticated technologyadvancements means people can get diagnosed and treated earlier. Andthe earlier cancer is treated, the higher the chance of a successfulresult.
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