Stomach Cancer

Click Here for Downloadable PDF File

After completing a thorough lab analysis of your recent stomach biopsy, a specialized doctor called a pathologist reported a diagnosis of stomach cancer, or cancer that begins in the stomach. Also called gastric cancer, the condition is most often diagnosed between the ages of 60 and 80. It occurs twice as often in men than women and affects some ethnic groups more frequently than others, especially Asian/Pacific Islanders, Hispanics and African-Americans.

About the Condition

The stomach is a hollow, muscular pouch in the upper-left region of the abdomen, typically 10 inches long in adults. Its main purpose is to process and store food. The walls of the stomach contain layers of muscles and glands that produce enzymes and gastric acid to aid in digestion.

Cancer occurs when cells in the lining of the stomach do not develop and die in their normal manner. The extra cells that result form a growth, or tumor, which can be benign or malignant. Benign tumors are not cancer and do not spread throughout the body. Malignant tumors are cancer. Their cells may invade and damage surrounding areas or spread to other locations in the body (metastasize). Contributing risk factors for stomach cancer may include:

•  Being age 50 and older
•  Having an ongoing infection with H. pylori bacteria
•  Regularly eating smoked, salted and pickled foods
•  Having polyps (growths) on the lining of the stomach
•  Eating a diet that is low in fruits, vegetables and fiber
•  Being a smoker
•  Having prior stomach surgery
•  Having a family history of stomach cancer, especially in a parent, sibling or child

The most common type of gastric cancer forms in the innermost stomach layer and is called adenocarcinoma. It accounts for about 95% of all cases. Rare types of stomach cancer include lymphoma and leiomyosarcoma. Because stomach cancer is often diagnosed at a later stage, your doctor may want to perform one or more tests to help determine if the cancer has spread, which could include the following:

•  MRI Scan
•  Ultrasound
•  Lymph Node Biopsy
•  X-ray
•  CT Scan
•  Bone Scan

Cancer that is confined within the stomach wall is the most manageable and curable. If malignant cells extend through the stomach into surrounding tissues, lymph nodes or other areas of the body, the treatment plan will be more complex and the cancer may not be curable. Many treatment options are available for patients with incurable stomach cancer to help minimize pain and improve quality of life.

Treatment Options

Deciding on a treatment plan for your stomach cancer can be complex and depend upon a variety of factors, such as your age, general health condition, stage of cancer and personal preferences. Sometimes more than one type of therapy may be used. The following treatment possibilities are available:

Surgery Three main surgical procedures are used to treat stomach cancer: endoscopic mucosal resection, partial gastrectomy and total gastrectomy. Endoscopic mucosal resection to remove the tumor is performed only in cases of very early stage cancer and involves the use of a camera (endoscope) inserted through the mouth. In partial, or subtotal, gastrectomy, a portion of the stomach is removed along with surrounding tissues and nearby lymph nodes. The remaining sections are then joined together. In total gastrectomy, the entire stomach is removed along with surrounding tissues and nearby lymph nodes. The small intestine is then connected to the esophagus and a new "stomach" is created from intestinal tissue if possible.

Radiation Therapy Another treatment method for stomach cancer is radiation therapy, which can be delivered externally or internally. In external beam radiation, a high energy X-ray machine is used to direct radiation at the tumor. Internal radiation therapy destroys cancer cells with small implants that are placed directly into the tumor. Radiation therapy can also help reduce stomach cancer symptoms such as pain, bleeding and difficulty eating.

Chemotherapy The use of anti-cancer drugs, or chemotherapy, provides a way to slow tumor growth and reduce pain for patients whose cancer has spread outside of the stomach.

You may also consider participating in clinical trials. These investigative studies help doctors learn about new treatments and better ways to use established treatments. Talk with your doctor about the possibility of taking part in a clinical trial in your area.

What You Can Do

You can choose to take an active role in your health and well-being. Learn as much as you can about your condition and have a list of questions ready each time you meet with your doctor. Join a cancer support group and talk with your family, friends, clergyperson or counselor as you feel comfortable. Also, be sure to get enough sleep and eat healthy foods every day.

In addition, you should report any new symptoms promptly to your doctor, who will likely recommend periodic screening exams to monitor your health.

Additional Resources

American Cancer Society, 800.227.2345,
American College of Gastroenterology, 301.263.9000,
National Cancer Institute, 800.422.6237,
Oncology Channel,

This patient resource sheet is provided to you as a service of CBLPath® and is intended for information purposes only. It may not fully describe all aspects of your diagnosis and is not meant to serve as medical advice or a substitute for professional medical care. Your physician can provide you with a thorough explanation of your diagnosis and appropriate treatment options, which may vary. Only you and your physician can determine your best treatment plan.

Updated 4.08