Gastric cancer is a type of cancer that grows in the stomach, in the cells lining the stomach wall. Factors that can make someone at higher risk of developing gastric cancer include:
- Increasing age
- Chronic inflammation of the stomach
- History of H. pylori infections
- History of Epstein Barr viral infection
- Family history of gastric cancer
- Tobacco use
- Diets containing high amounts of smoked foods
Symptoms of gastric cancer can vary for each person, but some common symptoms can include:
- Stomach pain
- Feeling bloated, especially after eating
- Weight loss
- Decreased appetite
The ultimate diagnosis of gastric cancer will be made once a biopsy is obtained. Imaging tests will likely be ordered when someone is suspected of having gastric cancer. Standard imaging tests can include CT scans, X-rays, MRIs, and PET scans.
Another imaging test that will likely be needed is an upper endoscopy. During this exam, a gastroenterologist inserts a long flexible scope with a camera into the mouth and the stomach. This camera allows them to visualize any suspicious areas for cancer. During an endoscopy, a biopsy of a suspicious lesion can be taken to be tested for cancer cells.
In addition to imaging, blood tests to evaluate blood cell counts, as well as kidney and liver function, are often done as well.
Once a diagnosis is made and imaging studies are done, the cancer is given a stage to describe how advanced the cancer is.
The exact treatment for gastric cancer will be determined once the diagnosis is made and the cancer stage is known.
Surgery may be recommended for gastric cancer. This surgery can include removing the part of the stomach containing the tumor or the entire stomach. Surgery may also remove lymph nodes around the stomach to check for the spread of cancer to those areas.
Radiation therapy is a treatment that may be used as well. During radiation, high-energy beams are directed at the cancer cells to kill them.
Chemotherapy is another treatment that may be recommended as well. Chemotherapy is a medication that is given to kill cancer cells. Sometimes chemotherapy is used before surgery to help shrink the tumor and allow the surgeon to perform less aggressive surgery.
For gastric cancer that has spread into other areas of the body (metastasized), targeted therapies, which target specific proteins on the cancer cells, might be useful. Immunotherapy is another treatment that helps the immune system see and attack cancer cells.
If you’ve been diagnosed with gastric cancer, talk to your cancer team about the specifics of your cancer. They can help you understand your diagnosis and how best to treat it.