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

18 responses to “Five Things You Need to Know About Stomach Cancer

  1. Very informative thanks, the dramatic decline of stomach cancer in the past several decades is thought to be a result of people reducing many of the known dietary risk factors. This includes greater use of refrigeration for food storage rather than preserving foods by salting, pickling, and smoking. To help reduce your risk, avoid a diet that is high in smoked and pickled foods and salted meats and fish.

    A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables can also lower stomach cancer risk. Citrus fruits (such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruit) may be especially helpful, but grapefruit and grapefruit juice can change the blood levels of certain drugs you take, so it’s important to discuss this with your health care team before adding grapefruit to your diet.

  2. Don’t take any discomfort unchecked. I went three months in pain (in the right side groin) 2 1/2 years ago I had stomach cancer after doctor apts left and right. If I didn’t keep up with going to doctors it could have been worse. April 2012 I had half of my stomach removed- it was stomach cancer. No one in my family has ever had stomach cancer only me. Just follow your heart and go to the doctors. I eat healthy and everything no stomach pains nothing.

  3. I definitely have to get checked and encourage anyone with any symptoms to do the same. My 64 year old father was diagnosed with stage IV stomach Cancer at the end of March 2015 and was gone by the end of April 2015. Only symptom at the time of diagnosis was a slight constant pain in the stomach area for a week or two. We had no family history of any type of Cancer. GET CHECKED OUT!!!

    1. Dear Berenice —

      Thank you for sharing your story and advice with our readers. We are so sorry to hear about the loss of your father. Wishing you and your family all the best.

  4. My dad passed away from stomach cancer 12 years ago. He had surgery when first detected and they removed more than half of his stomach, but the cancer had already advanced to his pancreas and he passed away two and a half years later. He also did chemo and radiation. He was misdiagnosed at first. They originally thought it was ulcers and then they blamed his pain on his hiatal hernia. It’s very difficult watching a family suffer like that. He was only 58 when he died. I know I should get checked because I suffer from IBS really bad…lots if diarrhea, cramps, bloating….yes I know that is considered lower GI and not the stomach…but still I don’t want to drink any barium mixtures or go through the prep of a colonoscopy….yuck.

    1. Dear Mary —

      Thank you for reaching out and sharing your story. We are so sorry to hear about the loss of your father. Wishing you and your family all the best.

  5. I underwent a bowel resection operation in 2010 for neuroendocrine tumors with follow-up LANREOTIDE injections ever since, holding my own even though they were unable to remove all tumors. Is this considered stomach cancer? DF has a trial looking for volunteers where they administer a pill which is intended to shut off blood flow to tumors, I asked my VA Oncologist if that is something I should look into and was told, no, that trial is for extremely advanced cancers…. I seem to be holding my own with no advancement to be concerned about.

    1. Dear David —

      Thank you for your comment and for reading Insight. You should bring all questions to your physician or care team, as they will be able to provide the best answers — we can not provide detailed medical advice over this blog or email. Based on the information you provided, this is a neuroendocrine tumor and not stomach cancer.

      If you would like more information on clinical trials nationwide, you can visit clinicaltrials.gov. More information on Dana-Farber clinical trials is available here.

      I hope this is helpful and wish you all the best.

  6. My 40 year old wife was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 stomach cancer after a short period of symptoms. She actually had no pain, but instead had an extreme increase in appetite to the point of waking me up during the night to go get her food.
    An ultrasound of her abdomen revealed nothing. We then pushed for an endoscopy which revealed everything. She had 2/3 of her stomach removed on August 11 and is recovering well. She has lost weight but is regaining her appetite again. She is beginning chemotherapy this week. Best to all!

    1. Dear Scot —
      Thank you for sharing your story with us. We are so sorry to hear about your wife’s recent diagnosis. Sending best wishes to her as she begins chemo this week.

  7. My dad passed away from stomach cancer, doctors are ready to surgery, but final group discussion, the cancer had 2nd stage and he passed away 19 years later at the age of 57 years. My father is suffering from Asthama last 40-50 years he takes tablets betnilon & epdrin last 40 years. He takes high spicy-nonveg, salt-tamarind items etc., It’s very difficult watching a family suffer like that. He was only 57 when he died. We had no family history of any type of Cancer, pl. advise mea bout stomach cancer cures and treatments.

  8. Dear Jagadeesh —

    We are so sorry to hear about the loss of your father. You can find more information about stomach cancer treatment and research on our website.

    You also may be interested in stomach cancer clinical trials. A list is available on our website and through ClinicalTrials.gov.

    Thank you for your interest in our blog and for your question. Wishing you and your family all the best.

  9. my uncle is passed away due to stomach cancer on 16th september 2016 . .also the 3 person of our family were passed away due to same desease. . want to know that stomach cancer is genetically transfered disease or not . . ? waitnig for reply . .
    with best wishes . . .

  10. For a stage 4 gastric cancer patient being treated with Herceptin infusions every three weeks and Xeloda, is there a source of information on treatment options for someone with my diagnosis? I trust my doctor but want to make informed choices.

  11. Hi Carol:
    Thanks for the comment. I’m sorry about your diagnosis and glad to hear that you have a good trusting relationship with your doctor. We have some information about gastric cancer on our web site at http://www.dana-farber.org/Adult-Care/Treatment-and-Support/Stomach-(Gastric)-Cancer.aspx. And there’s also a link there for getting a second opinion, if that’s something you were interested in pursuing. There’s also this information from the National Cancer Institute. https://www.cancer.gov/types/stomach/patient/stomach-treatment-pdq
    We hope that’s helpful and wish you the best.

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