Gastric (Stomach) Cancer

Call for a stomach cancer appointment

Gastric cancer, also known as stomach cancer, begins when mucus-producing cells in the inner lining of the stomach begin to divide without stopping. These cells can grow slowly into a tumor over the course of many years. This type of cancer is called adenocarcinoma.

Cancer in the upper part of the stomach, where the stomach meets the lower end of the esophagus, is common. However, rates of cancer in the main part of the stomach, called the stomach body, have been decreasing over the past few decades.

Virginia Mason gastroenterologists, oncologists, surgeons and nutritionists work together to provide the highest quality, integrated care for gastric cancer. To schedule an appointment with Virginia Mason's Gastroenterology Department, call (206) 223-2319.

Symptoms of Gastric Cancer

Many symptoms of gastric cancer are easily ignored since they cause only modest discomfort. That is why gastric cancer often advances before being detected. Symptoms can include:

  • Abdominal pain
  • Bloating after meals
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Dysphagia — difficulty swallowing
  • Fatigue or lack of appetite
  • Heartburn or indigestion
  • Jaundice — yellowing of the skin and/or eyes
  • Nausea and vomiting undigested food
  • Weakness
  • Weight loss
  • Vomiting blood or passing blood through stool

Causes of Gastric Cancer

As with most cancers, researchers don't know what causes gastric cancer. However, a previous or current infection with H. pylori increases the probability. Other risk factors include:

  • Age over 50 years
  • Male
  • Alcohol use
  • Anemia
  • Diets high in foods that are preserved by drying, smoking, salting, or pickling, or low in fruits and vegetables
  • Exposure to chemicals used in rubber and lead manufacturing, or asbestos
  • Gastric atrophy
  • Genetic predisposition
  • History of H. pylori infection
  • Obesity
  • Previous stomach surgery
  • Receiving radiation to the abdominal area during previous cancer treatment
  • Smoking
  • Lower socioeconomic status

Diagnosis of Gastric Cancer

Tell your provider if you have prolonged indigestion that has not improved with medication. Once you have accounted for all of your symptoms, your provider will complete a thorough medical history, a physical exam, and possibly one of the following tests:

  • Barium Swallow or Upper Gastrointestinal (GI) series: A barium solution is swallowed and an X-ray is used to track the barium's progress as it passes through the esophagus and stomach.
  • Blood Test: A complete blood count (CBC) may be taken to check for anemia.
  • Endoscopy/Biopsy: A small tube with a video camera on one end is slid down the throat and into the stomach to view the stomach lining. The same tube can be used to remove a small piece of tissue to be examined under a microscope.
  • Imaging tests: An abdominal computerized tomography (CT), chest X-ray, diagnostic laparoscopy, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), PET scan or ultrasound may be completed to help determine if and how cancer may have progressed.
  • Stool tests: A fecal occult blood test may be taken to identify if there is blood in the stool that might not be visible to the naked eye.

Treatment of Gastric Cancer

Gastric cancer is typically treated by three options: radiotherapy, chemotherapy, surgery, or a combination of the three.

  • Surgery: A part of your stomach, or sometimes the whole stomach, may need to be removed surgically, depending on the stage of the disease. This is called a partial gastrectomy or total gastrectomy. Your provider will discuss how you can plan for the best nutrition, digestion, and possible vitamin supplementation both before and after surgery.
  • Chemotherapy: Chemotherapy is medication taken intravenously or orally to shrink the tumor and/or eradicate the cancer cells.
  • Radiotherapy: Radiotherapy often occurs before surgery. It is radiation aimed directly at tumors that can shrink them. After surgery, radiation can delay or prevent recurrence of your cancer.

To schedule an appointment with Virginia Mason's Gastroenterology Department, call (206) 223-2319.