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Overview of Stomach Cancer: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Dr. Rashmi ByakodiSept 14, 2023

According to the WHO, stomach cancer is the fourth most common cause of cancer-related mortality worldwide and the sixth most prevalent type of cancer overall. Although this disease is challenging to diagnose, you must be well aware of the symptoms to manage the ailment in a timely manner. This article will help you understand the causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and treatment related to Stomach Cancer.

Stomach Cancer



What is Stomach Cancer?

Stomach Cancer or Gastric Cancer starts when a cell grows and multiplies abnormally in the inner lining of the stomach. This disease usually starts in the glandular tissue of the stomach lining and grows slowly over the years. Because it grows so slowly, it is hard to detect at an early stage. Once cancerous cells develop in the stomach, they tend to spread to nearby organs throughout the body.

Although anyone can be affected by Stomach Cancer, people between 60 to 70 years of age are typically detected with this condition. Moreover, men are more susceptible to Stomach Cancer than women. People with a family history of this disease are at an increased risk of developing it. 

What causes Stomach Cancer?

Several factors may increase the risk of growing cancer cells in the stomach. They may include certain conditions or diseases, as mentioned below.

  • Genetics or family history

  • Chronic gastritis

  • Gastrointestinal Reflux Disease (GERD)

  • H. Pylori infection (a common stomach infection caused by bacteria)

  • Tumours in nearby parts of the digestive system

  • Stomach polyps (anomalous tissue growths in the stomach linings)

  • Genetic factors like Lynch syndrome, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, familial adenomatous polyposis, and Peutz-Jeghers syndrome

  • Previous surgeries such as pernicious anaemia, achlorhydria, or stomach surgery

Some external factors that may also trigger the risk of Stomach Cancer are as follows.

  • Old age

  • Excessive smoking

  • Obesity

  • Unhealthy eating habits

  • Excessive alcohol consumption

  • Eating a lot of high-fat, salty, or processed foods

  • Does not exercise

  • Nutritional deficiency

Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

As per studies, Stomach Cancer typically does not exhibit any early symptoms making it challenging to detect. However, some common symptoms of Stomach Cancer may include the following.

  • Persistent heartburn

  • Loss of appetite

  • Pain in abdomen

  • Unintended weight loss

  • Indigestion

  • Nausea

  • Persistent bloating

  • Quick satiety

  • Extreme tiredness

When Stomach Cancer advances, it shows metastatic symptoms, which may include some of the following symptoms.

  • Black-coloured faeces or blood in stool

  • Vomiting with or without blood

  • Trouble in swallowing

  • Swelling in the abdominal area

  • Jaundice, if cancer advances to the liver

If you experience any of the above symptoms, then you should immediately visit your doctor so that the cause can soon be detected. 

Types of Stomach Cancer

Stomach Cancers can be categorised as follows. 

1. Adenocarcinoma: The most common type of Stomach Cancer that develops in the glandular cell in the inner lining of the stomach.

2. Lymphoma: Cancer that develops in the lymphatic system. It primarily affects the lymph glands, thymus gland, bone marrow, and spleen.

3. Sarcomas: A type of cancer that develops in the connective tissues such as fat, muscles, cartilage, or blood vessels.

4. Metastatic cancers: When cancer spreads from the origin to different parts of the body. The cancerous cells start to shed from the tumour and are transmitted through the bloodstream.

5. Other cancers: Some other types of cancers, such as squamous cell carcinoma, carcinoids, and small cell carcinoma, can also begin in the stomach.

Diagnosing Stomach Cancer

To diagnose stomach cancer, your doctor may ask you about your medical history and perform a physical examination to check for any abnormalities. The doctor may also order blood tests to check for conditions such as blood in your stool or anaemia.

The following diagnostic tests may be required if the doctor suspects any sign of the disease.

  • Upper GI endoscopy: Doctors use a special instrument called an endoscope to check for Stomach Cancer. A thin tube with a camera at the tip of the endoscope is inserted through the mouth, and a small tissue sample is taken from the stomach for biopsy.

  • Endoscopic ultrasound: This special type of endoscope has an ultrasound probe attached to its tip that helps take pictures of the stomach and shows up to what extent cancer has spread.

  • Imaging tests: Tests like CT scans, MRI scans, PET scans, etc., can help identify the tumour and any other abnormalities related to cancer. These tests also clarify whether cancer has spread out to other parts of the body.

Stages of Stomach Cancer

The stages of stomach cancer are determined by how far the disease has spread in the body. To evaluate the stage of Stomach Cancer, the doctors use the TNM system from the American Joint Committee on Cancer (AJCC), which focuses on three areas.

  1. T category:It defines the tumour size and the extent to which it has spread.

  2. N category: It describes whether cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes.

  3. M category: It indicates whether cancer has spread to distant organs such as the liver, lungs, kidney, etc.

Each category is further categorised into a stage of 0 to 4. The lower the number, the lesser the spread.

  • Stage 0: Cancer cells appear only on the lining of the stomach and have not spread to any other body parts.

  • Stage 1: Cancer has spread to the inner layer of the stomach wall but not to the lymph nodes or other organs of the body.

  • Stage 2: Cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes of the stomach but not to the other parts of the body.

  • Stage 3: Cancer has spread to the nearby organs but not to the distant organs of the body.

  • Stage 4: Cancer has metastasized to distant organs such as the liver, lungs, or brain.

Looking at different stages, the line of treatment and the survival rates are different. The early detection of cancer may have a 71.8% 5-year survival rate after diagnosis. For advanced metastasized cancers, the survival rate may go down to 5.9%.

Treatment of Stomach Cancer

The treatment of Stomach Cancer depends on the type and stage of cancer. Usually, it requires a team of specialists that includes a primary healthcare provider, an oncologist (cancer specialist), and a gastroenterologist (gastrointestinal specialist). However, the line of treatment for Stomach Cancer that is commonly followed may include the following.

1. Surgery

This process includes the removal of the tumour and the surrounding healthy tissues. If the cancer is detected early, then the doctors generally recommend a non-surgical endoscopy method (endoscopic mucosal resection) to remove the tumour. 

Conversely, if cancer has spread, then doctors may advise total gastrectomy, where the total stomach is removed, or subtotal gastrectomy, which includes removing part of the stomach affected with cancer, surrounding lymph nodes, and probably some parts of other organs near the tumour depending on the metastases.

2. Radiation therapy 

It includes using high-energy radioactive rays to the targeted area to destroy the cancerous cells. Radiation therapy helps reduce the tumour size or demolish the residual cancerous cells after surgery.

3. Chemotherapy

This process includes using of cytotoxic drugs to kill the cancerous cells from multiplying rapidly. Chemotherapy helps reduce the growth of the tumour. It can be recommended as a treatment for Stomach Cancer before or after surgery.

Chemotherapy can be used as a primary treatment for Stomach Cancer if it has metastasized to distant organs and cannot be removed due to some reason. Chemotherapy may help shrink the size or slow the growth of the tumour.

4. Targeted therapy

This therapy targets and kills the specific proteins that control the growth, division, and spread of cancer cells. Targeted therapy is considered better than chemotherapy because it is less likely to harm the healthy tissues as chemotherapy does.

5. Immunotherapy

This therapy helps boost the body's immunity to fight against cancer cells and destroy them more effectively. Immunotherapy is used along with chemotherapy for patients with advanced-stage cancer.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are some common queries and their answers about Stomach Cancer.

What is the main reason for Stomach Cancer?


There may be several reasons that may increase the risk of Stomach Cancer. They may include genetics or family history, gastrointestinal reflux disease (GERD), and H. Pylori infection. 

Furthermore, excessive smoking, obesity, unhealthy eating habits like eating a lot of high-fat, salty, or processed foods, and excessive alcohol consumption may also increase the risk of developing Stomach Cancer.

What are the symptoms of early-stage Stomach Cancer?


The symptoms that may occur at the early stage of Stomach Cancer are persistent heartburn, loss of appetite, pain in the abdomen, indigestion, nausea, bloating, and extreme fatigue.

What is the survival rate of Stomach Cancer?


The early detection of cancer may have a 71.8 % 5-year survival rate after diagnosis. While for advanced metastasized cancers, the survival rate may go down to 5.9%.


Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. Please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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