What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer (also called gastric cancer) can develop in any part of the stomach and can spread throughout the stomach and to other organs. It can grow along the stomach wall into the esophagus or small intestine. It also can extend through the stomach wall and spread to nearby lymph nodes, and to organs such as the liver, pancreas, and colon. Stomach cancer also may spread to distant organs, such as the lungs, lymph nodes above the collar bone, and the ovaries.
Symptoms of stomach cancer
Stomach cancer can be hard to find early. Often there are no symptoms in the early stages and, in many cases, the cancer has spread before it is found. When symptoms do occur, they are often so vague that the person ignores them. Stomach cancer can cause:
- Indigestion or a burning sensation (heartburn);
- Discomfort or pain in the abdomen;
- Nausea and vomiting;
- Diarrhoea or constipation;
- Bloating of the stomach after meals;
- Loss of appetite;
- Weakness and fatigue; and
- Bleeding (vomiting blood or having blood in the stool).
Any of these symptoms can be caused by cancer or by other, less serious health problems, such as a stomach virus or an ulcer. People who have any of these symptoms should see their doctor.
Diagnosis of stomach cancer
Fecal occult blood test - A check for hidden (occult) blood in the stool. It may be tested in the doctor's office or sent to a laboratory. This test is done because stomach cancer sometimes causes bleeding that cannot be seen.
Upper GI series - X-rays of the esophagus and stomach (the upper gastrointestinal, or GI, tract). The x-rays are taken after the patient drinks a barium solution, a thick chalky liquid. (This test is sometimes called a barium swallow.) The barium outlines the stomach on the x-rays, helping the doctor find tumors or other abnormal areas.
Endoscopy - An exam of the esophagus and stomach using a thin, lighted tube called a gastroscope, which is passed through the mouth and esophagus to the stomach. Through the gastroscope, the doctor can look directly at the inside of the stomach. If an abnormal area is found, the doctor can remove some tissue through the gastroscope. This procedure, removing tissue and examining it under a microscope, is called a biopsy. A biopsy is the only sure way to know whether cancer cells are present
Surgery is the most common treatment for stomach cancer. The operation is called gastrectomy. The surgeon removes part (subtotal or partial gastrectomy) or all (total gastrectomy) of the stomach, as well as some of the tissue around the stomach. After a subtotal gastrectomy, the doctor connects the remaining part of the stomach to the esophagus or the small intestine. After a total gastrectomy, the doctor connects the esophagus directly to the small intestine. Because cancer can spread through the lymphatic system, lymph nodes near the tumor are often removed during surgery so that the pathologist can check them for cancer cells. If cancer cells are in the lymph nodes, the disease may have spread to other parts of the body.