Stomach Cancer: What You Need to Know
Stomach cancer is a slow-growing cancer
Stomach cancer is also known as gastric cancer. Stomach cancer:
- Affects about 20,000 Americans each year and accounts for about 10,000 deaths
- Is slow growing compared to some other cancers
- Usually begins in the inner lining of the stomach
- May not cause symptoms right away
- Often becomes a more serious condition before it is detected
- Can grow through the stomach walls and affect the liver, lungs and nearby lymph nodes
- Can eventually spread through the body
Who is most likely to get stomach cancer?
Not everyone has an equal chance of getting stomach cancer. It is more likely to affect:
- Men compared to women
- Older people compared with younger, with rates of stomach cancer much higher in people over the age of 50, and even higher in those over 60
- Hispanic-Americans, African-Americans and Asians/Pacific Islanders than white Americans
- People who have long-term infection with a bacteria called “Helicobacter pylori”
- People whose diets include large amounts of smoked foods, salted fish and meat, or some preservatives
Finding stomach cancer early is important
Compared with other cancers, stomach cancer doesn’t happen that often in the U.S. That’s why most people don’t usually get tested for it. If you have a number of risk factors or any symptoms and think you are likely to get the disease, you should talk with your doctor.
Understanding the symptoms of stomach cancer
Many of the symptoms of stomach cancer can also be caused by something other than cancer, such as a stomach virus or an ulcer. However, if you have symptoms that don’t go away or get worse, get medical advice. Symptoms of stomach cancer include:
- Poor appetite
- Weight loss (if you’re not dieting)
- Belly pain
- Discomfort in the belly area, usually above the navel
- A sense of fullness in the upper belly area after eating a small meal
- Heartburn or indigestion
- Vomiting, with or without blood
- Swelling or fluid build-up in the belly
- Low red blood cell count
“I think I have symptoms. Should I get tested?”
If you think you might have stomach cancer, or if you have symptoms, ask your doctor. If he or she decides you need to be tested, you’ll probably get an exam called an “endoscopy.” For the test, a special camera will be sent down your throat and into your stomach. You will be given medication to make you sleepy or unconscious for this test.
Stomach cancer can spread
It’s important to know what stage cancer you have, because that tells you how far it’s spread. The stages of stomach cancer can be complicated, but here’s the short version:
Stage 0 – At this stage, the cancer is staying in the innermost layer of the stomach lining. It has not spread anywhere else.
Stage 1 – Now the cancer has entered deeper layers in the stomach lining. At this stage it may also have grown into the main muscle layer of the stomach wall.
Stage 2 – This stage is similar to Stage 1, but now the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes in some cases. In other cases, it has grown all the way through the muscle layer. It has NOT spread to other areas of the body.
Stage 3 – Now the cancer has spread even more, possibly completely through the stomach wall or into nearby organs or structures. Despite this growth, it has not spread to distant parts of the body.
Stage 4 – When cancer has reached this stage, it has spread widely. It may be found in the liver, lungs, brain or bones.
Planning your treatment
Make sure you understand your choices, then decide what’s best for you. Take a little time to talk with your RCCA team. They will help you form a cancer treatment plan. The plan can make use of the following treatments, separately or together:
- Removal of the cancerous cells with surgery
- Weakening the cancer with anticancer drugs (this is called “chemotherapy”)
- Using drugs that target the cancer cells directly
- Bombarding the cancer with high-energy rays (radiosurgery)
Regional Cancer Care Associates — The kind of cancer care you need
Regional Cancer Care Associates (RCCA) gives you a different kind of cancer care. We offer high-quality, comprehensive and advanced treatment close to home — and there’s more. At RCCA, we’ll take care of you as soon as possible, sometimes even the same day. We’ll help you explore coverage and payment options and work to lower the financial impact of your treatment. Our nationally-recognized cancer care network focuses on every patient, individually.