SummaryRead the full fact sheet
- Men are 2 times more likely than women to be diagnosed with stomach cancer.
- Stomach cancer is more common in people over 60.
- Surgery is the most common treatment for stomach cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body.
About stomach cancer
Stomach cancer develops when cells in the lining of the stomach change and grow out of control. If it is not found and treated early stomach cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
About 2,400 people are diagnosed with stomach cancer each year in Australia. Men are twice as likely as women to be diagnosed with stomach cancer. It is more common in people over 60, but it can occur at any age.
Signs and symptoms of stomach cancer
Stomach cancer may not cause symptoms in the early stages and the symptoms of stomach cancer are usually common for other medical conditions. This is why stomach cancer is often diagnosed when the cancer is more advanced. There are several possible symptoms:
- unexplained weight loss or loss of appetite
- difficulty swallowing
- indigestion (pain or burning sensation in the abdomen, burping often, reflux)
- persistent nausea and/or vomiting with no obvious cause
- stomach pain
- sense of fullness, even after a small meal
- swelling of the abdomen or feeling bloated
- unexplained tiredness
- vomit containing blood
- black-coloured or bloody stools.
Not everyone with these symptoms has stomach cancer. If you have any of these symptoms or are worried, always see your doctor.
Risk factors for stomach cancer
There are some things that can make it more likely to develop stomach cancer. These are called risk factors and they include:
- older age (being over 60)
- infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori, which is a type of bacteria found in the stomach
- having had part of your stomach removed to treat non-cancerous conditions
- low red blood cell levels (pernicious anaemia)
- a family history of stomach cancer
- having an inherited genetic condition such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Lynch syndrome, gastric adenocarcinoma and proximal polyposis of the stomach (GAPPS) or hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC)
- chronic inflammation of the stomach (chronic )
- being overweight or
- eating foods preserved by .
Having one or more of these risk factors doesn’t mean you will develop stomach cancer. Often there is no clear reason for getting stomach cancer. If you are worried about your risk factors, ask your doctor for advice.
Tests for stomach cancer
Your doctor may do some tests to check for stomach cancer:
- (also called gastroscopy, oesophagoscopy or upper endoscopy) – a doctor passes a long, flexible tube with a light and small camera on the end (endoscope) into your mouth, down your throat and oesophagus, and into your stomach and small bowel. This allows the doctor to look inside your digestive tract to examine the lining.
- – during an endoscopy if the doctor sees any suspicious-looking areas they may remove a small amount of tissue from the stomach lining, known as a biopsy. A pathologist will then examine the tissue under a microscope to check for signs of disease.
- Endoscopic – a doctor passes an endoscope with an ultrasound probe on the end into your mouth, down your throat and oesophagus, and into your stomach and small bowel. The ultrasound probe then uses sound waves to create a picture of your stomach.
If these tests show you have stomach cancer you will then have some of the following tests to check your general health and to find out if the cancer has spread to other parts of your body:
- – a small amount of blood will be taken from a vein to check your general health.
- – a scan that uses x-rays and a computer to take pictures of the inside of the body, which can help to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
- – a CT scan combined with a PET scan, which provides more detail than a CT scan on its own and can also be used to determine if the cancer has spread to other parts of the body.
- – a surgical procedure that allows your doctor to look inside your abdomen and examine the outer layer of your stomach for signs that the cancer has spread.
Types of stomach cancer
The most common type of stomach cancer is adenocarcinoma of the stomach (also known as gastric cancer). This cancer starts in the glandular tissue found on the stomach’s inner surface.
Other less common types of cancer can affect the stomach including small cell carcinomas, lymphomas, neuroendocrine tumours and gastrointestinal stromal tumours. Your doctor will be able to explain more about these types of stomach cancer.
Stages and grades of stomach cancer
Stages of cancer
The stage of a cancer means how far it has grown in your body. The most common way doctors decide on a stage for stomach cancer is the TNM (tumour, nodes metastasis) staging system. The stages are based on the size of the tumour, whether or not lymph nodes are affected, and whether the cancer has spread:
- Stage 1 – describes early or limited cancer where tumours are found only in the stomach.
- Stage 2–3 – describes locally advanced cancer where tumours have spread deeper into the layers of the stomach and to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage 4 – describes metastatic or advanced cancer where tumours have spread beyond the stomach to nearby lymph nodes or parts of the body, or to distant lymph nodes and parts of the body.
Grades of cancer
The grade of the cancer means how quickly a cancer might grow. Knowing the grade helps your doctor work out the best treatment plan for you.
Prognosis and survival rates of stomach cancer
When someone is diagnosed with stomach cancer, their doctor will give them a prognosis. A prognosis is the doctor’s opinion of how likely it is that the cancer will spread and the chances of getting better. A prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer, as well as the person’s age and general health.
Generally, the earlier stomach cancer is diagnosed the better the chances of successful treatment. If the cancer is found after it has spread from the stomach, the prognosis is not usually as good.
If you have stomach cancer, your doctor will talk to you about your individual situation when working out your prognosis. Every person’s experience is different, and there is support available to you.
Treatment for stomach cancer
Treatment for stomach cancer depends on the stage of the cancer, your age, medical history, nutritional needs and general health.
You might feel confused or unsure about your treatment options and decisions. It’s okay to ask your treatment team to explain the information to you more than once. It’s often okay to take some time to think about your decisions.
Surgery is the main treatment for stomach cancer that has not spread to other parts of the body. Surgery aims to remove all of the stomach cancer while keeping as much normal tissue as possible. There are 2 main types of surgery for stomach cancer:
- Endoscopic resection – very early-stage tumours that have not spread from the stomach walls may be removed with a long, flexible tube (endoscope) that is passed down your throat and oesophagus, and into your stomach.
- Gastrectomy – this procedure removes all or part of the stomach, leaving as much healthy tissue as possible.
is the use of drugs to kill or slow the growth cancer cells. For stomach cancer, chemotherapy is often given before surgery to shrink large tumours and destroy any cancer cells that may have spread. It may also be used after surgery to reduce the chance of the cancer coming back.
Targeted therapy is a type of drug treatment that attacks specific parts of cancer cells to stop the cancer growing and spreading. Targeted therapy is only available for certain types of stomach cancer.
, also known as radiotherapy, is a type of treatment that uses a controlled dose of radiation to kill or damage cancer cells so they cannot multiply. Radiation therapy is commonly used to control symptoms of stomach cancer and is sometimes used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.
There have been some advances in treating advanced stomach cancer with immunotherapy drugs known as checkpoint inhibitors. These use the body’s own immune system to fight cancer. Speak to your doctor about whether immunotherapy is the right treatment for you.
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.
Having a feeding tube
Some people with stomach cancer will have a feeding tube before treatment to help them maintain their weight and build up their strength. Other people will have a feeding tube after surgery until they are able to eat and drink normally.
Many people find that having a feeding tube makes eating easier and less uncomfortable. A feeding tube can be placed into your small bowel either through a nostril or with an operation that places a tube through the skin of your abdomen.
Your treatment team will show you how to care for the tube. It will be removed when it is no longer required. Having a feeding tube is a major change and it’s common to have a lot of questions. For information, talk to a dietitian or nurse. A counsellor or psychologist can provide emotional support and coping strategies.
What to do before treatment starts
Before you start your treatment it is recommended you:
- – people with stomach cancer often lose a lot of weight and can become malnourished. Your doctor may refer you to a dietitian for advice on how to slow down the weight loss. This will help improve your strength, reduce side effects, and may mean the treatment works better.
- – if you smoke, aim to quit before starting treatment. If you keep smoking, you may not respond as well to treatment. For support, see your doctor or call Tel. .
- – exercise will help build up your strength for recovery. Talk to your doctor or physiotherapist about the right type of exercise for you.
Sexuality and stomach cancer
Having stomach cancer and treatment can change the way you feel about yourself, other people, and . These changes can be very upsetting and hard to talk about. Doctors and nurses are very understanding and can give you support. You can ask for a referral to a counsellor or therapist who specialises in body image, sex and relationships.
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:
- Where the cancer started.
- How far it has spread.
- Your general health.
- Your preferences and what you want to do.
Support for carers, family and friends of someone with stomach cancer
Caring for someone with cancer can be difficult sometimes. If you are caring for someone with stomach cancer, these organisations can help: