Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is a fairly uncommon type of cancer. More than 6,000 people are diagnosed with it each year in the UK. The initial symptoms of stomach cancer are vague and easy to mistake for other less serious conditions. They include:
- persistent indigestion and heartburn
- trapped wind and frequent burping
- feeling very full or bloated after meals
- persistent stomach pain
Symptoms of advanced stomach cancer can include:
- blood in your poo, or black poo
- loss of appetite
- weight loss
As the early symptoms of stomach cancer are similar to those of many other conditions, the cancer is often advanced by the time it’s diagnosed. It is therefore important to get any possible symptoms of stomach cancer checked by your GP as soon as possible.
The exact cause of stomach cancer is still unclear, although you’re more likely to develop it if you:
- are male
- are aged 55 or over
- have a diet low in fibre and high in processed food or red meat
- have a diet that contains a lot of salted and pickled foods
- have a stomach infection caused by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria
There are several different types of stomach cancer. More than 95% of stomach cancers develop in the cells of the stomach lining and are known as adenocarcinomas.
Less common types of stomach cancer include lymphoma of the stomach, which develops in the lymphatic tissue (tissue that drains away fluid and helps fight infection), and gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GISTs), which develop in the muscle or connective tissue of the stomach wall.
Many cases of stomach cancer can’t be completely cured, but it’s still possible to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life using chemotherapy and in some cases radiotherapy and surgery.
If operable, surgery can cure stomach cancer as long as all of the cancerous tissue can be removed.
Surgery to remove some or all of the stomach is known as a gastrectomy. It will still be possible to eat normally after a gastrectomy, but you’ll probably have to adjust the size of your portions.
Chemotherapy can also be used before surgery to help shrink the tumour and sometimes after surgery to help prevent the cancer returning.