Surgery is an effective treatment and possible cure for stomach cancer. However, it may require permanent changes to your eating habits.

Stomach cancer (or gastric cancer) is a fairly common cancer. In the United States, an estimated 26,380 people will be diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2022. One of the most effective treatments for stomach cancer is surgery.

During surgery, doctors can remove a tumor that hasn’t spread beyond the stomach. This can sometimes cure stomach cancer.

There are a few different types of stomach cancer surgery. The size and location of the tumor, along with the individual’s overall health, will determine the type that’s used. This article will cover the overall pros and cons, as well as costs and other frequently asked questions about stomach cancer surgeries.

Surgery is one of the primary treatment options for stomach cancer. If the cancer hasn’t spread beyond your stomach, surgery can remove the tumor and cure the cancer. If the cancer has spread, surgery can prevent tumor bleeding and can relieve some cancer symptoms. This is called palliative surgery because it’s done to relieve symptoms, not to cure the cancer.

There are several types of surgery that are used to treat stomach cancer. The best surgery for you will depend on the size and location of your tumor.

During most surgeries, part or all of your stomach will be removed along with the tumor and cancer cells. Surgeons will often try to leave as much of the stomach as intact as possible, but removing the cancer is always the main priority.

Types of cancer surgery include:

  • Endoscopic resection: Endoscopic resection is a surgical procedure that can be done on very early-stage stomach cancers when tumors are small and haven’t spread. The surgery is done using a long and flexible tube called an endoscope that’s passed down your throat to allow surgeons to remove the tumor without making an incision.
    • There are two primary types of endoscopic resection used for stomach cancer: endoscopic mucosal resection and endoscopic submucosal dissection.
  • Partial gastrectomy: During a partial gastrectomy, only one part of your stomach is removed. Sometimes, a portion of your esophagus or small intestine is also removed. The stomach is then reattached to surrounding organs.
  • Total gastrectomy: A total gastrectomy is the removal of your entire stomach and the attachment of your esophagus to your small intestine. It’s done if the cancer is spread throughout your stomach. The surgeon also removes nearby lymph nodes during this surgery and often also removes parts of the esophagus, intestines, and pancreas.
  • Lymph node removal: Lymph node removal is almost always part of either a partial or total gastrectomy. Lymph nodes play a vital role in cancer’s ability to spread throughout the body.
  • Gastric bypass: Gastric bypass surgery is a palliative surgical option. It’s done when tumors have grown so large they’re blocking the passage of food in the lower part of your stomach. Gastric bypass attaches the small intestine to the top of the stomach, so that food can pass through.
  • Palliative subtotal gastrectomy: During a palliative subtotal gastrectomy, the part of your stomach containing the tumor is removed. This can alleviate symptoms such as bleeding, pain, and difficulty eating. Since this surgery is palliative, lymph node removal isn’t typically part of this surgery.
  • Endoscopic tumor ablation: Endoscopic tumor ablation can be an option for people who aren’t able to undergo standard surgery. This procedure is done using an endoscope with a laser on the end that’s used to destroy parts of the tumor. This can relieve symptoms.

There are risks and benefits to stomach cancer surgery. All surgery has potential risks, and there’s no guarantee of success.

However, surgery is often the best treatment option for stomach cancer, especially if the tumor hasn’t spread beyond your stomach. You can check out the chart below for some pros and cons at a glance.

Stomach cancer surgery prosStomach cancer surgery cons
Can completely remove the tumorMight need to remove the entire stomach
Can sometimes cure stomach cancerNot always successful at removing all cancer cells
Can relieve pain and other symptomsHas the risk of side effects
Surgical techniques have improved in recent yearsYou will need to change how you eat

It’s important to talk with a doctor about your personal risks and potential benefits of stomach cancer surgery. The stage of your stomach cancer, the location of your tumor, and your overall health will all make a difference in your surgery options and potential outcomes.

Ask your doctor to explain the surgery they’re recommending, how much of your stomach will be removed, what the risks are, and what you can expect during your recovery.

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The exact cost of stomach cancer surgery depends on the surgery you have, the surgery center or hospital that treats you, and your location. Surgery for stomach cancer is always medically necessary, so insurance companies, including Medicare, will almost always cover it.

However, your out-of-pocket costs will vary depending on your insurance and on factors such as your deductible and any copays or coinsurance you have.

If you don’t insurance, or if you have a very high deductible or copayment, there are foundations and nonprofits that might be able to help. The Stomach Cancer Awareness Network has a list of organizations you can turn to for financial, insurance, medical, and additional assistance.

Although stomach cancer surgery can be very complex, improved techniques have made the procedure safe. A 2019 Chinese study looked at more than 94,000 people who had stomach cancer surgery and found a mortality rate of 0.32%. This means that more than 99% of people who had stomach cancer surgery survived the procedure.

The survival rates for stomach cancer itself can vary depending on when treatment begins.

According to the American Cancer Society, the 5-year survival rate for cancer that hadn’t spread beyond the stomach was 70% between 2011 and 2017. The 5-year survival rate for cancer that had spread to distant parts of the body was 6% between 2011 and 2017. However, it’s important to keep in mind that these survival rates are based on past data.

It’s also important to remember that cancer treatments have improved in the last 5 years, and current survival numbers are likely higher.

All surgeries carry the risk of side effects. Most of the side effects of stomach cancer surgery are manageable. However, rare but serious effects are possible.

Common side effects of stomach cancer surgery can include:

These side effects are the result of part or all of your stomach being removed. They might resolve on their own as your body adjusts to the change. If they don’t, your doctor can prescribe medication to aid digestion. You might also receive injected vitamin supplements.

If you can’t get enough nutrition, a tube called a jejunostomy tube can be attached to your intestine through your abdomen. You can then receive liquid nutrition through this tube.

Rare side effects of stomach cancer surgery can include:

  • Leaking of the connection between the stomach, esophagus, and small intestine
  • Infection
  • Damage to surrounding organs

Does stomach cancer surgery leave a scar?

Stomach cancer surgery might leave a scar. It depends on the type of surgery you have. For example, endoscopic procedures don’t require cutting into your skin, so that won’t create a scar. However, gastrectomies do generally require an incision and will often scar.

You can check out tips to help remove scars here.

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Your recovery process will depend on the exact surgery you have and how much of your stomach is removed. Additionally, factors about your health and your cancer treatment progress can affect your surgery recovery. No matter what, you’ll spend at least 3 days in the hospital, and your total recovery will take about 3 to 6 months.

It’s typical after a partial gastrectomy to:

  • spend 3 to 5 days in the hospital
  • resume relatively normal eating within 3 to 6 months following surgery
  • lose weight in the first month to 6 weeks following surgery

It’s typical after a total gastrectomy to:

  • spend 5 to 8 days in the hospital
  • take several months to adjust to a new pattern of eating
  • lose weight for at least 2 months
  • take vitamins to help with your recovery, including calcium, iron, and B12

As your digestive system adjusts to the loss of part or all of your stomach, it’s normal to experience what’s called “dumping syndrome.” This syndrome occurs because food travels too quickly to your intestine. It can cause symptoms such as:

Best diet after stomach cancer surgery

It’s important to make adjustments to your diet after stomach cancer surgery. Since your stomach will be partially or completely removed, it’s best to eat several small meals throughout the day. This can make digestion easier on your system and can prevent painful symptoms.

It can take experimentation to figure out the best schedule and diet after stomach cancer surgery. Often, following a high protein and low carb diet can help with recovery and symptoms. This means incorporating foods such as:

  • eggs
  • poultry
  • lean beef
  • shellfish
  • nuts
  • lentils
  • low fat dairy

It’s also a good idea to avoid foods such as:

  • white bread
  • white rice
  • white pasta
  • pancakes
  • packaged cereals
  • soft pretzels
  • baked goods
  • potatoes
  • sodas

Surgery is one of the most effective treatments for stomach cancer. Surgical procedures can remove tumors and cure cancer. There are several types of stomach cancer surgery. The type you have depends on the size and location of your tumor.

In most cases, all or part of your stomach will be removed along with the tumor. This can lead to uncomfortable symptoms such as abdomen pain, cramping, and nausea after meals as your body adjusts. Changes to your diet can help, and symptoms often resolve with time. If they don’t, medications and other treatments can help.