Stomach cancer (gastric cancer) is a lump (tumour) created by an abnormal and uncontrolled growth of cells that starts in your stomach.
Your stomach is a muscular bag in your abdomen (tummy) that digests the food you eat. The lining of your stomach produces a strong acid to help break down food.
Stomach cancer develops within the lining of your stomach or stomach wall. If you don't get treatment for stomach cancer, it can spread through the lining of your stomach into neighbouring organs, such as your bowel. Sometimes the cancer can spread to other parts of your body through your blood or lymphatic system. Your lymphatic system is made up of tissues and organs that produce and store cells that fight infection and disease. The spread of cancer through the body is called metastasis.
In 2011, about 7,000 people were diagnosed with stomach cancer in the UK. It mostly affects people over 55 and is more common in men.
About nine in 10 stomach cancers are a type called adenocarcinoma. This starts in the lining of your stomach, in cells that produce stomach juices.
Other, rarer types of stomach cancer include:
Symptoms of stomach cancer may include persistent:
You may also get a swelling or lump in your stomach area.
If you have any of these symptoms, see your GP.
Other symptoms of stomach cancer may include:
If you have these symptoms, contact your GP immediately.
The exact reasons why you may develop stomach cancer aren't fully understood at present. However, you're more likely to develop it if you:
Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine you. He or she may also ask you about your medical history. Your GP may give you a blood test, which will assess your general health.
Your GP may refer you to a gastroenterologist. This is a doctor who specialises in identifying and treating conditions that affect the digestive system. You may then be recommended more tests, which may include the following.
If you're found to have stomach cancer, you may need to have other tests to find out how advanced it is. This process, known as staging, takes into account whether the cancer has spread and how big it is. You will usually be advised to have scans, such as an ultrasound, MRI or CT, to check your stomach, liver and lymphatic system.
Your treatment will depend on the type of stomach cancer you have and how far it has spread. Your doctor will discuss your treatment options with you.
Surgery involves removing the affected tissue from your stomach and usually a small amount of the surrounding healthy tissue.
You may have a partial gastrectomy, which means that your surgeon will remove part of your stomach. Alternatively, you may have a total gastrectomy. This means your surgeon will remove all of your stomach. Your surgeon may also remove the lymph nodes around your stomach to check whether the cancer has spread to them.
It may be possible for you to have laparoscopic (keyhole) surgery rather than open surgery. This means your surgeon will make several smaller cuts in your abdomen instead of one larger one. Speak to your surgeon for more information.
Your doctor may advise you to have one of the following treatments, either as well as surgery, or on its own.
You may be asked to be part of a clinical trial of a new treatment. Ask your doctor for advice and further information.
If you make some changes to your lifestyle, it may reduce your risk of getting stomach cancer. For example:
Talk to your GP for further advice and information.
Produced by Rachael Mayfield-Blake, Bupa Health Information Team, February 2014.
For answers to frequently asked questions on this topic, see FAQs.
For sources and links to further information, see Resources.
This information was published by Bupa's Health Information Team and is based on reputable sources of medical evidence. It has been reviewed by appropriate medical or clinical professionals. Photos are only for illustrative purposes and do not reflect every presentation of a condition. The content is intended only for general information and does not replace the need for personal advice from a qualified health professional. For more details on how we produce our content and its sources, visit the about our health information page.
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