Five Things You Need to Know About Stomach Cancer

Medically reviewed by Peter C. Enzinger, MD

Although not a common type of cancer in the United States, stomach (gastric) cancer is the second leading cancer death worldwide, and affects more men than women.

Peter Enzinger, MD, medical director of Dana-Farber's Center for Esophageal and Gastric Cancer.
Peter C. Enzinger, MD, medical director for the Center for Esophageal and Gastric Cancer at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center.

“The United States’ risk is much less because of hygiene and the safety of foods we eat, and more to do with overall health and genetic predisposition,” explains Peter C. Enzinger, MD, medical director for the Center for Esophageal and Gastric Cancer at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC).

As November marks Stomach Cancer Awareness Month, here are some facts about stomach cancer:

1.) What are the risk factors of Stomach Cancer?

Although doctors and researchers don’t know the exact cause of stomach cancer, there are some factors that increase risk. They include:

  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection.
  • Chronic stomach inflammation
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Eating a diet high in salted, or smoked foods, and low in fruits and vegetables
  • Smoking
  • Having a mother, father, sister or brother who has had stomach cancer.

2.)  What are the Symptoms of stomach cancer?

Symptoms of stomach cancer are often symptoms of other health problems that may not be as serious. Since there are no physical signs during the early stages, it is often diagnosed at a more advanced stage.

People who have stomach cancer might experience lack of appetite, difficulty swallowing, fatigue from anemia, discomfort or pain in the stomach area or feeling full early.

3.) How is stomach cancer diagnosed?

Doctors will first conduct a physical exam and discuss family history. He/she may also take a blood sample, known as a complete blood count (CBC) to check blood cell and platelet counts. An endoscopy, biopsy, barium swallow, CAT (CT) scan, and fecal blood test may also be conducted as part of a diagnosis.

4.) How is stomach cancer treated?

Treatment is based on the diagnosis and the stage of the cancer. Surgery is used for patients with most stages of stomach cancer. Doctors may also choose to use chemotherapy and radiation therapy.

Some patients also have the opportunity to take part in clinical trials and targeted therapies may be used for some types of stomach cancer with known genetic mutations. A list of Dana-Farber clinical trials is available here and a national list can be found at http://www.clinicaltrials.gov.

 

5.) Can stomach cancer be inherited?

When a close relative has been diagnosed with a type of hereditary colon cancer, known as Lynch Syndrome, or multiple close family members have been diagnosed with stomach cancer, a risk of hereditary stomach cancer exists.

Receiving cancer screenings and participating in clinical research are two ways to take control of the risk of stomach cancer. Genetic testing is also an option, where a blood sample is analyzed for alterations in genes. Alterations in certain genes increase the risk of cancer.

For more information on stomach cancer, visit the website for the Center for Esophageal and Gastric Cancer at DF/BWCC