Upper Gastrointestinal Multidisciplinary Clinic
Lifespan Cancer Institute

Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is a cancer that starts in the stomach. Most stomach cancers develop slowly over many years, and therefore symptoms often go undetected.

Stomach Cancer Rates Are Increasing for Women

Women under the age of 55 are most at risk.

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The cells that form the tumor determine the type of stomach or gastric cancer one has. Most gastric cancers begin in the glandular cells of the stomach and are called adenocarcinoma, the most common form of gastric cancer. Other types of gastric cancer include: Lymphoma, which begins in the immune system; carcinoid cancer, which begins in the hormone-producing cells; and gastrointestinal stromal tumor (GIST), which begins in the tissues of the nervous system. There are other, more rare types of gastric cancer as well.

What to Look Out For

Stomach cancer rarely causes symptoms in its early stages. While it is difficult to detect early, there are still some signs you should look out for. Symptoms of stomach cancer include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Blood in the stool
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Low red blood cell count
  • Nausea
  • Poor appetite
  • Swelling or fluid build-up
  • Vague discomfort in the abdomen
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss without trying

It is possible that many of these symptoms may be caused by something other than cancer, such as a stomach ulcer or virus. If symptoms persist or get worse, call your health care professional for a visit.

Stomach Cancer Risk Factors

Some risk factors can be attributed to lifestyle and therefore can be changed. However, there are also risk factors that cannot be controlled. Having a risk factor(s) does not mean you will get the disease, but scientists have found several risk factors that make a person more likely to get stomach cancer. They are:

  • Gender—it is more common in men than women.
  • More common in those of Hispanic, African, Native American and Pacific Islander descent than Caucasians.
  • People with mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue (MALT) lymphoma have an increased risk.
  • Diets with high amounts of smoked foods, salted meat and fish, and pickled vegetables.
  • Smoking increases risk
  • Being overweight or obese is a possible cause of gastric cancers.

Treatment for Stomach Cancer

Tests and procedures used to diagnose gastric cancer may include an upper endoscopy, imaging tests such as a CT scan, and a special X-ray called a barium swallow test. Sometimes, exploratory surgery is needed to fully understand the stage and extent of gastric cancer, which helps determine the best course of treatment.

There are a few main options doctors use to treat stomach cancer. These options include:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery
  • Targeted therapy

Your team of doctors will include a gastroenterologist, a surgical oncologist, a medical oncologist and a radiation oncologist.