Stomach cancer is a relatively common cancer in Australia. However, it is rarely diagnosed in people aged under 50 years old. It affects more men than women.
Although treatment can be more effective if the cancer is found in its early stages, when it starts stomach cancer rarely has symptoms.
If you have any concerns, make an appointment to visit your doctor.
What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer is a condition of abnormal cell growth in your stomach.
The stomach is part of the body’s digestive system and is located in your upper abdomen. The two main types of stomach cancer are:
- gastric adenocarcinoma (gastric cancer) – the most common type
- gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST)
What causes stomach cancer?
The causes of stomach cancer are not known but it is more common in people who:
- eat a lot of smoked, pickled and salted foods and do not eat much fresh fruit and vegetables
- have chronic stomach problems such as polyps
- infected with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori
Stomach cancer also tends to run in families and is more common in people of east Asian descent.
Symptoms of stomach cancer
Some people have stomach cancer without having any symptoms at all. Some people get symptoms such as:
Some find they are bleeding internally and have blood in their vomit or black stools.
Diagnosis of stomach cancer
Your doctor will talk to you and examine you. You might be asked to have a number of tests to understand your symptoms and reach a diagnosis.
The tests include:
- endoscopy, where a thin tube with a camera on the end is passed down your throat and oesophagus to look at the digestive tract
- blood tests
- stool sample
- endoscopic ultrasound of the inside of your stomach and other parts
- X-ray, computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of your stomach and nearby organs
- taking a sample of tissue (biopsy) from your stomach wall
Stages of stomach cancer
Doctors use a system they call staging to describe the severity of the cancer. Stage 1 means it hasn’t spread at all. Stage IV (or stage 4) means it has spread to distant parts of the body. Cancer Council Australia have more information on the different stages of stomach cancer.
Stomach cancer treatment
Treatment for stomach cancer depends on the stage of your disease, the severity of symptoms and your overall health. The options include:
- surgery to remove all or part of your stomach
- chemotherapy to destroy cancer cells
- biological therapy (biotherapy), which helps your immune system fight the cancer
Prevention of stomach cancer
You can reduce your risk by:
- not smoking or quitting smoking
- eating a diet high in fresh vegetables and fruit and low in smoked, pickled and salted foods
- treating Helicobacter pylori infection
Living with stomach cancer
If you have been recently diagnosed with stomach cancer, you may feel overwhelmed, scared, anxious and upset. These are all normal feelings. Make sure you have support from family and friends and ask your doctor to refer you to local services and relevant support groups.
You can also contact the Cancer Council in your state or territory. For more information, call the Cancer Council Helpline on 13 11 20.
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Last reviewed: March 2020