Information about stomach cancer.
What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, develops when abnormal cells in the stomach grow in an uncontrolled way. If it is not found and treated early, stomach cancer can spread to other parts of the body.
Who can be affected by stomach cancer?
The chance of getting stomach cancer increases with age and is most often found in people who are 50 years and older. Stomach cancer is more common in males than in females and is more common amongst Māori and Pacific peoples.
Anything that can increase your risk of cancer is called a risk factor. Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean that you will definitely develop stomach cancer.
Some of these risk factors can't be changed (e.g. age) and others can (e.g. diet).
The risk factors for stomach cancer are:
- Infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori
- A diet high in salty and smoked foods
- A diet low in fruit and vegetables
- Drinking alcohol
- Smoking I- nfection with Epstein-Bar virus
- Being over 50 years old
- Having a family history of stomach cancer
- Having an inherited genetic condition that increases your risk
- Having gastritis (long-term stomach inflammation)
- Having pernicious anaemia (an autoimmune condition)
Signs and symptoms
There may be no warning signs that you have stomach cancer. Some signs and symptoms of stomach cancer may include:
- Feeling full or bloated, even after a small meal
- Stomach pain or a burning feeling
- Difficulty swallowing or regurgitation (bringing up) of undigested food
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Swelling of the abdomen
- Black-coloured faeces (poo)
- Loss of appetite and/or weight loss
- Unexplained tiredness or fatigue
Although these symptoms are usually caused by conditions other than cancer, it's important to get them checked by your doctor as soon as possible.
Usually the first test used to look for stomach cancer is called a gastroscopy. A gastroscopy is done using a long, thin, flexible tube containing a camera and light. This is used to examine the stomach. If, during the gastroscopy, the person doing the procedure sees an area that looks suspicious, they may remove a small amount of tissue from the stomach. This is called a biopsy. The tissue is then looked at more closely under a microscope.
If stomach cancer is diagnosed, some more tests may be done to find out if the cancer has spread anywhere else in the body. These tests may include blood tests, radiological imaging tests (such as a CT scan, MRI scan or X-ray) and/or laparoscopy (a procedure that lets the doctor see inside your abdomen).
If you are found to have stomach cancer you will be referred to a specialist. A team of health professionals will look after your care.
The treatment for stomach cancer depends on the type and stage (how far it has spread), the severity of your symptoms, your general health and preferences.
Surgery (to remove all or part of the stomach) and chemotherapy (medicines to destroy cancer cells) are the main treatments for stomach cancer. Other treatments, including radiotherapy (radiation to destroy cancer cells), may be recommended.