Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is a relatively uncommon type of cancer that affects about 7,300 people each year in the UK, and occurs when the genetic material of cells in the stomach become damaged or changed, producing mutations that affect normal cell growth and division. The abnormal cells then replicate, causing cancer. If undetected, the cancer can spread beyond the stomach and move to other parts of the body.

The precise causes of stomach cancer are unknown, but several risk factors have been identified, including being over the age of 50, smoking and having a family history of stomach cancer.

Symptoms of stomach cancer

The symptoms of stomach cancer are similar to other stomach conditions so it is important to get an accurate diagnosis. Symptoms may include:

  • Loss of appetite or weight loss
  • Feeling sick or being sick
  • Pain
  • Blood clots
  • Indigestion, heartburn and burping
  • Feeling full
  • Blood loss or feeling tired due to blood loss
  • Difficulty swallowing

If any of these symptoms apply to you, or if you have any concerns about similar symptoms, it is essential that you see your doctor at once.

How is stomach cancer diagnosed?

Your consultant or oncologist will advise you on which tests are relevant to your symptoms. The diagnosis of stomach cancer involves a number of different tests and examinations. They include:

  • A PET-CT scan, which combines a Computerised Tomography scan and a Positron Emission Tomography scan into one scan to give more detailed information about your cancer. A CT scan takes pictures from all around your body and uses a computer to put them together. A PET scan uses a very small amount of an injected radioactive drug to show where cells are active in the body
  • A laparoscopy, which is where a small incision is made in your abdomen and a flexible camera called an endoscope is used to examine your stomach
  • An endoscopy, which involves a long, thin tube with a tiny video camera at the end being fed down your throat to examine the affected area
  • A biopsy, where cell samples are taken for examination for signs of cancer

Treatment of stomach cancer

Patients with stomach cancer are treated by a specialist multidisciplinary team. This team works together to create a treatment plan to suit the individual needs of the patient. Stomach cancer can be treated in a variety of different ways, depending on how far it has progressed, and the overall health and fitness of the patient.

  • Surgery, where the affected area is removed
  • Radiotherapy, where high-energy rays are used to destroy the cancer cells
  • Chemotherapy, where chemical agents destroy the cancer cells preventing them from spreading to different areas
  • Biotherapy, which is the use of newer and more targeted therapies to assist the body in fighting the disease

Related tests and scans