Imaging tests, including ultrasound, are often a part of stomach cancer diagnosis.

Stomach cancer is a serious condition that affects thousands of people in the United States each year. According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), there will be around 26,500 new cases in 2023 and more than 11,000 deaths from stomach cancer.

Stomach cancer usually begins in the cells lining the stomach wall’s innermost layer. It can spread to other body areas, including nearby lymph nodes and organs like the liver and lungs.

Diagnosing it typically involves a physical exam, imaging tests like X-rays or CT scans, and blood tests. An ultrasound may also help detect stomach cancer.

Let’s explore how an ultrasound can detect stomach cancer, other tests your doctor may perform, and symptoms you should be aware of.

An ultrasound can help diagnose stomach cancer. An ultrasound is a noninvasive imaging test that uses high intensity sound waves to create pictures of the inside of the body. It can help doctors look for tumors in certain abdominal areas that don’t appear well on X-rays.

Ultrasound images can also help doctors determine if a tumor is solid or filled with fluid, how deep it is, and whether it has spread to the stomach walls or other organs.

However, ultrasounds are not always accurate in detecting stomach cancer and may need to be combined with other tests, such as endoscopy or biopsy, to confirm a diagnosis.

Other tests include:

  • Endoscopy: An endoscopy is a procedure where a thin tube with a camera on the end is inserted through the mouth and into the stomach. This allows your doctor to see inside your stomach and take tissue samples for biopsy.
  • CT Scan: A CT scan is an imaging test that uses X-rays to create detailed pictures of the inside of your body. It can help show if stomach cancer has spread to other organs or lymph nodes.
  • MRI Scan: An MRI uses magnets and radio waves to create detailed images of organs in your body. It can be used to look for tumors in the abdomen or pelvis area.
  • PET Scan: A PET scan is an imaging test that uses a small amount of radioactive material injected into your body before taking pictures with a special camera. It can help show if cancer has spread beyond the stomach.
  • Upper gastrointestinal series: In an upper GI series, your doctor will give you a chalky substance to drink called barium, which coats the lining of your esophagus, stomach, and small intestine. This helps these organs show up clearly on an X-ray.

Ultrasound uses high frequency sound waves to create images of the organs in your abdomen, including your stomach.

Before the procedure

  1. Your doctor will discuss any medications you’re taking and may advise you to stop taking them before the procedure.
  2. You’ll be asked to remove any jewelry or other metal objects that could interfere with the ultrasound image.
  3. You may be asked to fast for several hours and drink a large glass of water before the procedure, as this helps create a clearer image of your stomach and surrounding organs.

During the procedure

  1. You’ll lie on an examination table, and a gel will be applied to your abdomen. This helps create a better image of your internal organs during the scan.
  2. The technician will move a handheld device called a transducer over your abdomen, sending sound waves through your body, which are converted into images on a monitor for your doctor to view and analyze.
  3. Depending on the type of ultrasound, you may also have an endoscope inserted into your throat or rectum during the procedure to better view certain areas inside your body that cannot be seen with traditional ultrasound imaging techniques alone. In this case, you’ll need sedation.

After the procedure

  1. After the ultrasound is complete, you can typically go home immediately without any restrictions or need for recovery time unless sedation was used. In this case, you’ll be moved to a recovery room until you awaken.
  2. Your doctor will examine all the images captured and share the results with you in a few days or weeks. The turnaround time depends on the type of ultrasound conducted and the level of detail required for an accurate diagnosis of stomach cancer.

Signs of stomach cancer differ based on how early it’s detected.

Early symptoms of stomach cancer

Early symptoms include:

Later symptoms of stomach cancer

Later symptoms include:

Stomach cancer can spread and become lethal if detected late or left without treatment. As such, it’s best to get help from a doctor immediately if you notice any lingering symptoms or think you have a higher risk of getting stomach cancer.

You may also have other conditions that are not cancer but present the same symptoms, such as gastritis or peptic ulcers. Your doctor will be able to perform a proper diagnosis and recommend treatment.

Here are some frequently asked questions about stomach cancer.

How can you detect stomach cancer early?

You can detect it by looking out for symptoms, such as abdominal pain or discomfort.

Can you see cancer on an ultrasound?

Yes. An ultrasound helps detect cancer, but a doctor may perform other tests to confirm the diagnosis.

What is the best scan for stomach cancer?

A CT scan is often used to confirm a diagnosis, but your doctor may still need to perform a biopsy.

Ultrasound can be an important diagnostic when looking for stomach cancer. It’s often used with other tests, such as a CT scan or endoscopy, to confirm the diagnosis and cancer stage.