Stomach Cancer (Gastric Adenocarcinoma)

Written by Natalie Phillips | Published on July 11, 2012
Medically Reviewed by George Krucik, MD

What Is Gastric Cancer?

Gastric cancer, also known as gastric adenocarcinoma, is a cancer that forms inside of the stomach. It is the most common type of stomach cancer worldwide, and most commonly affects men over the age of 40 (NIH, 2011).

Although there are a number of other (very rare) types of stomach cancer, typically, when someone says “stomach cancer” they are referring to gastric cancer. This article discusses stomach cancer in general.

In recent years, stomach cancer rates have decreased in the United States. According to the Abramson Cancer Center (ACC), people these days tend to eat less salted, smoked, and cured food now than they used to, which may explain lower stomach cancer rates. (ACC).

What Are the Causes of Stomach Cancer?

Your risk for developing stomach cancer is higher if you have:

  • a family history of stomach cancers
  • a helicobacter pylori infection (a type of bacterial infection)
  • a polyp in the stomach longer than 2 centimeters
  • chronic stomach inflammation
  • stomach swelling
  • anemia
  • a diet high in smoked, pickled, and salted foods

Smoking also increases your risk of cancer. Obese people may have an increased risk for developing cancer in the upper stomach.

According to research published in the Annals of Surgery, ethnicity may also be a risk factor. The disease occurs most often in Japan, Eastern Asia, Eastern Europe, and South America. It occurs least often in Canada, the United States, Africa, and Northern Europe (Dicken, et al., 2005).

What Are the Symptoms of Stomach Cancer?

Symptoms of stomach cancer include:

  • pain or fullness in the stomach
  • dark stool
  • trouble swallowing
  • vomiting, or blood in vomit
  • decline in overall health
  • not feeling hungry
  • nausea
  • weakness
  • weight loss

In the early stages, symptoms may not be present. Some symptoms are similar to common stomach disorders.

How Is Stomach Cancer Diagnosed?

Tests that can help diagnose the disease include:

  • EGD (esophagogastroduodenoscopy) to check the inside of the stomach with a small camera. This is often done along with a biopsy.
  • complete blood count (CBC) to measure red and white blood cells and check for anemia
  • upper GI series, a series of X-rays done to check the stomach

Treating Stomach Cancer

Surgery

Surgery to remove the stomach is the only treatment known to cure this cancer. This surgery is called “gastrectomy.”

The surgery is performed while the patient is unconscious. This ensures you feel no pain during the surgery. The surgeon removes all (total gastrectomy) or part (partial gastrectomy) of the stomach depending on the extent of the cancer.

Other Treatment Options

Radiation therapy and chemotherapy may be used after the surgery to improve the chance of a cure. In patients who cannot have surgery, radiation and chemotherapy may be used to improve symptoms and prolong survival, but generally, they cannot cure the cancer.

Long-Term Outlook for a Patient With Stomach Cancer

The long-term outcome of the cancer varies. How far the tumor has gone into the stomach wall and whether the lymph nodes are affected will determine the outlook. Cancer in the lower stomach is cured more often than cancer in the higher stomach.

A cure is not possible if the tumor spreads outside the stomach. In this case, treatment is used to relieve the patient’s symptoms (NIH, 2012).

How is Stomach Cancer Prevented?

According to the National Institutes of Health, mass screening programs are valuable in countries with high cancer rates (NIH, 2012). In countries where the cancer is uncommon, the value of this is not clear.

You may be able to lower your risk by:

  • not smoking
  • maintaining a healthy weight
  • eating a balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables
  • treating reflux disease with medication
  • exercising
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