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Stomach cancer



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What is stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, usually begins in the lining in the upper part of the stomach.

Stomach cancer is a relatively common cancer in Australia, however the number of people diagnosed has been falling. It is rare in people under 50 years of age and affects more men than women.

In 2013, 2117 new cases of stomach cancer were diagnosed in Australia. Stomach cancer affects nearly twice as many men as women. The risk of being diagnosed with stomach cancer by age 85 is 1 in 62 for men compared to 1 in 145 for women.

In 2014, there were 1137 deaths due to stomach cancer in Australia. The five-year survival rate for people diagnosed with stomach cancer is around 29%.


Stomach cancer symptoms

In the early stages, stomach cancers often do not cause any symptoms.

Signs of early stomach cancer include:

  • a painful or burning sensation in the abdomen
  • heartburn or indigestion (dyspepsia).

Other symptoms that can occur later include:

  • a sense of fullness, even after a small meal
  • nausea and/or vomiting
  • loss of appetite and/or weight loss
  • swelling of the abdomen
  • unexplained tiredness or weakness
  • blood in vomit
  • black-coloured faeces.

Causes of stomach cancer

Some factors that can increase your risk of stomach cancer include:

  • smoking
  • age over 50
  • being male - stomach cancers are more common in men than in women
  • infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori
  • a diet high in smoked, pickled and salted foods and low in fresh fruit and vegetables
  • alcohol consumption 
  • being overweight or obese
  • a family history of stomach cancer
  • partial gastrectomy for ulcer disease (after about 20 years)
  • inheriting a genetic change that causes the bowel disorders familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer.
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Diagnosis for stomach cancer

If your doctor thinks you may have stomach cancer, you will be referred for further tests.  The main test is an endoscopy (also known as a gastroscopy). The doctor will use a thin, flexible tube with a camera (endoscope), which passes into the mouth, down the throat and oesophagus into the stomach in order to look at the digestive tract. 

If any suspicious-looking areas are detected, a small amount of tissue from the stomach lining may be removed (biopsy) and examined under a microscope. Less commonly used is an endoscopic ultrasound where the endoscope has an ultrasound probe at the end. 


Treatment for stomach cancer

Staging

After stomach cancer is diagnosed, one or more of the following tests are used to determine the extent of the cancer (its stage):

  • CT scan
  • ultrasound scan
  • PET scan
  • laparoscopy
  • bone scan.

The staging system used for stomach cancer is the TNM system, which describes the stage of the cancer from stage I to stage IV.

Types of treatment

The main treatment for stomach cancer is surgery – a total or partial gastrectomy (removing all or part of the stomach). Chemotherapy may be given before surgery to shrink larger tumours. It can also be used after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.

Treatment team

Any initial symptoms will be assessed by your general practitioner (GP). Your GP will also be a part of your treatment team after a diagnosis. Depending on your treatment, your team of health professionals may consist of a number of different specialists, including:

  • a gastroenterologist who specialises in diseases of the digestive system
  • an upper gastrointestinal surgeon who treats diseases of the upper digestive system using surgery
  • a medical oncologist who prescribes the course of chemotherapy
  • a radiation oncologist who prescribes the course of radiation therapy
  • cancer nurses
  • other health professionals such as a dietician, physiotherapist, social worker or counsellor.

Palliative care

In some cases of stomach cancer, your medical team may talk to you about palliative care. Palliative care aims to improve your quality of life by alleviating symptoms of cancer.

As well as slowing the spread of stomach cancer, palliative treatment can relieve pain and help manage other symptoms. Treatment may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other drug therapies.

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Screening for stomach cancer

There is currently no screening for stomach cancer available in Australia.


Prognosis for stomach cancer

An individual's prognosis depends on the type and stage of cancer as well as their age and general health at the time of diagnosis. Treatment is most effective if the cancer is found in its early stages; stomach cancer can be cured if the cancer is removed before it spreads. However, because of the absence or vagueness of symptoms in the early stages, stomach cancers are often not discovered until they are more advanced. 


Preventing stomach cancer  

There are some steps you can take to minimise the risk of stomach cancer including:

  • not smoking or quitting smoking
  • reducing consumption of smoked, pickled and salted food
  • a diet high in fresh vegetables and fruit
  • treatment of Helicobacter pylori infection may be protective.

Source

Understanding Stomach and Oesophageal Cancer, Cancer Council Australia, ©2017. Last medical review of source booklet: September 2017

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) 2017. Cancer in Australia 2017. Cancer series no. 101. Cat. no. CAN 100. Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW). Australian Cancer Incidence and Mortality (ACIM) books: Stomach cancer. Canberra: AIHW.

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For more information

For support and information on cancer and cancer related issues, call Cancer Council 13 11 20 (cost of a local call). This is a confidential service

Booklets 

  • Understanding Stomach & Oesophageal cancers - Download (PDF)
  • View more Cancer Booklets including information on surgery, radiotherapy and chemotherapy.

Includes additional information on treatment, making decisions around treatment and managing side effects of treatment.

Also included, detailed information on looking after yourself during and after treatment, and links to both professional and community support. 

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This page was last updated on: Thursday, November 2, 2017

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