What is stomach cancer?
What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer occurs when abnormal cells in the stomach wall grow in an uncontrolled way. The stomach is part of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which forms part of the body’s digestive system.
Types of stomach cancer
There are four types of stomach cancer including:
- Gastric adenocarcinoma (also known as gastric cancer) starts in the glandular cells that line the inner layer of the stomach wall (called the mucosa). Gastric adenocarcinoma is the most common type of stomach cancer in Australia.
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST) are regarded as being rare cancers that start in the connective (interstitial) tissue in the stomach wall
- Lymphomas are regarded as being rare cancers of the lymph system that sometimes are found in the wall of the stomach
- Carcinoid tumours are regarded as being rare cancers that start in the hormone-making cells of the stomach.
Stomach cancer may not cause symptoms in the early stages and is often diagnosed when it’s more advanced. Common stomach cancer symptoms may include:
- Indigestion or heartburn, particularly if it is getting worse
- Difficulty or pain when swallowing, or also a sense of choking when swallowing, which is called dysphagia
- Feeling full or bloated, especially after only eating a small amount
- Loss of appetite
- Unexplained weight loss
- Nausea, or vomiting, with or without blood
- Black or bloody stools
- Pain in the upper abdomen, which may occur when eating
- Swollen abdomen caused by a build-up of fluid
- Feeling tired, without reason
It's important to note that these symptoms do not necessarily mean that you have stomach cancer. If you are concerned or have further questions, please make an appointment with your GP or specialist.
There are no clear causes for stomach cancer, however there are a range of factors that may increase the potential risk of diagnosis. These risk factors may include:
- Having a chronic stomach condition, such as, Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection, chronic gastritis (stomach inflammation) or gastric polyps (non-cancerous growths on the inner lining of the stomach)
- Being older
- Low levels of red blood cells
- A partial gastrectomy (stomach removal) to treat non-cancerous conditions
- Eating a high salt diet including smoked or pickled foods, and low in fruit and vegetables
- Smoking tobacco
- Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol
- Overweight or obese
- Family history of stomach cancer or gastrointestinal disorders.
It is recommended to make an appointment with your GP or specialist, if you are concerned or have questions pertaining to risk factors for stomach cancer.
Diagnosing stomach cancer
There are a couple of different tests that may be undertaken to diagnose stomach cancer, including:
- Physical examination
- A blood test to check for anaemia, and in addition testing organ function for example, of the liver
- Checking for any blood via an stool sample examination
- Endoscopy: This is an examination of the inside of the stomach and other parts of the upper digestive system, which is done using an endoscope.
- Biopsy: This involves a tissue sample (known as a biopsy) being taken from the stomach wall, for further examination under a microscope. Generally, a biopsy is taken during an endoscopy.
If you are diagnosed with stomach cancer, you may have further tests which aim to help understand how far the cancer has progressed. These are called staging tests, and may include:
- Imaging tests: hese tests may include an endoscopic ultrasound, computerised tomography (CT) scan, positron emission tomography (PET-) CT scan or an magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The objective with such a test is to understand more about the size and location of the tumour, plus to see if the cancer has spread to your lymph nodes or elsewhere.
- Laparoscopy: This is a surgical procedure that may be used to look inside the abdomen to detect if the tumour has spread.
Treatment options for stomach cancer
Your treating doctor will discuss the most appropriate option(s) for treatment with you. The options suggested to you depend upon the stage of the cancer, your overall health, symptom severity, and your personal preference. One of the treatment options suggested to treat stomach cancer may be surgery, with usually two types of surgical treatment suggested:
- Endoscopic resection: This can remove early-stage tumours in the stomach. It’s done using an endoscope.
- Gastrectomy: Surgery to remove all or part of the stomach is called a gastrectomy. The surgeon aims to remove as much of the tumour as possible, including some healthy tissue and lymph nodes, to help reduce the risk of the cancer recurring. There are two types of gastrectomy; partial gastrectomy and total gastrectomy.
Other treatment options for stomach cancer suggested by your doctor may include:
- Chemotherapy - Chemotherapy is an approach to cancer therapy which involves the administration of medicine, usually orally or by injection, which is intended to kill cancer cells or minimise their growth and spread. Chemotherapy can be used in conjunction with other cancer treatments.
- Immunotherapy - Immunotherapy is a type of treatment that is intended to help your own immune system fight cancer. There are different types of immunotherapy for cancer that work in different ways.
- Radiation therapy - Radiation therapy may be offered in the early stages of cancer treatment, or after it has started to spread. There are different radiation therapy techniques which may be suitable for different cancer types at different stages.
- Targeted therapy - Targeted therapy refers to treatment with medicines that are designed to specifically attack cancer cells without harming normal cells. These types of medicines affect the way that cancer cells grow, divide, repair themselves or interact with other cells.
Understanding more about potential treatment side effects
Side effects of cancer treatment
All cancer treatments may have side effects. The type and severity of side effects will vary between individuals. You can ask your doctor for detailed information about the side effects which you may experience with any treatment recommended for you.
Recommendations to help you stay well during treatment
- Get as much rest as possible
- Aim for a wholefood, varied diet, and we also encourage you to think about eating foods that interest you rather than what you think you should eat
- Appetite changes are common, and you may experience taste changes or nausea. Help manage this by eating small, frequent snacks and avoiding smells that make you nauseous
- Drink lots of water
- Reach out to support groups and others who have had cancer treatment
- Record your side effects in a diary or journal
- Speak to your doctor about incorporating some gentle exercise into your weekly routine
- It is important to acknowledge when you are fatigued and rest when you need to
- Ask for and accept help from family, friends and neighbours
- Be open with employers about your treatment and discuss flexible working options if you need them
Your treatment with GenesisCare
Learn more about treatment options offered at GenesisCare
At GenesisCare, we understand that a cancer diagnosis can be emotional and life-changing. It’s natural to feel disbelief, anxiety, sadness, anger, and loneliness. We aim to offer a personalised care experience, designed to help you achieve the best possible clinical outcomes.
Our care team will aim to know your name and get to know who you are as a person. Your care will be managed by a multidisciplinary team of passionate healthcare professionals with experience in oncology including: radiation oncologists, medical oncologists, registered nurses, radiation therapists, physicists, and a dedicated team of support staff.
Please contact your local GenesisCare centre for more details on the services available. View a list of our centres here.
Other helpful services
If you would like to understand more about support services, plus to learn more about stomach cancer, you may find the below organisations helpful:
Cancer Council Australia
13 11 20
Australian Cancer Research Foundation
02 9223 7833
GI Cancer Institute
1300 666 769
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