Stomach cancer is a type of cancer that starts in your stomach.
Key points about stomach cancer
- If it is not found and treated early, stomach cancer can spread to other parts of your body.
- The chance of getting stomach cancer increases with age and is most often found in people who are 50 years and older.
- Some signs and symptoms of stomach cancer include feeling full or bloated after a small meal, stomach pain, nausea (feeling sick) or vomiting (being sick), difficulty swallowing, loss of appetite or weight loss.
- The treatment for stomach cancer depends on the type and stage (how far it has spread), the severity of your symptoms and your general health and preferences.
What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, develops when abnormal cells in your stomach grow in an uncontrolled way. If it is not found and treated early, stomach cancer can spread to other parts of your body.
Who can be affected by stomach cancer?
The chance of getting stomach cancer increases with age and is most often found in people who are 50 years and older. Stomach cancer is more common in males than in females and is more common among Māori and Pasifika peoples.
What are the risk factors of stomach cancer?
Anything that can increase your risk of cancer is called a risk factor. Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will definitely develop stomach cancer.
Some of these risk factors can't be changed (eg, older age); others can (eg, diet).
The risk factors for stomach cancer are:
- infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori
- a diet high in salty and smoked foods
- a diet low in fruits and vegetables
- drinking alcohol
- infection with Epstein-Barr virus
- being over 50 years of age
- having a family history of stomach cancer
- having an inherited genetic condition that increases your risk
- long-term stomach inflammation (gastritis)
- having pernicious anaemia.
What are the signs and symptoms of stomach cancer?
There may be no warning signs that you have stomach cancer. Some signs and symptoms of stomach cancer may include:
- feeling full or bloated, even after a small meal
- stomach pain or burning feeling
- difficulty swallowing/regurgitation of undigested food
- nausea and/or vomiting (feeling and/or bein sick)
- swelling of your abdomen
- black-coloured faeces (poo)
- loss of appetite and/or weight loss
- unexplained tiredness or fatigue.
Although these symptoms are usually caused by conditions other than cancer, it's important to get them checked by your doctor as soon as possible.
How is stomach cancer diagnosed?
Usually the first test used to look for stomach cancer is called a gastroscopy. A gastroscopy is done using a long, thin, flexible tube containing a camera and a light to examine your stomach. If, during the gastroscopy, the person doing the procedure sees an area that looks suspicious, they may remove a small amount of tissue from your stomach. This is called a biopsy. The tissue is then looked at more closely under a microscope.
If stomach cancer is diagnosed, some more tests may be done to find out if the cancer has spread anywhere else in your body. These tests may include blood tests, radiological imaging tests (such as a CT scan, MRI scan or x-ray) and/or laparoscopy (a procedure that lets the doctor see inside your abdomen).
How is stomach cancer treated?
If you are found to have stomach cancer you will be referred to a specialist. A team of health professionals will look after your care.
The treatment for stomach cancer depends on the type and stage (how far it has spread), the severity of your symptoms, your general health and preferences.
Surgery (to remove all or part of your stomach) and chemotherapy (medicines to destroy cancer cells) are the main treatment for stomach cancer. Other treatments, including radiotherapy (radiation to destroy cancer cells), may be recommended.
The following links provide further information about stomach cancer. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.
Content used with permission from Te Aho o Te Kahu | The Cancer Control Agency as part of a National Content Hub Collaborative.