What is stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer develops when cells in any part of the stomach grow and divide abnormally. Tumours can begin anywhere in the stomach but most begin in the glandular tissue on the stomach's inner surface. This type of cancer is an adenocarcinoma of the stomach (gastric cancer).
Rare types of stomach cancer include small cell carcinomas, lymphomas, neuroendocrine tumours and gastrointestinal stromal tumours.
Stomach cancer is a relatively common cancer in Australia, however the number of people diagnosed has been falling.
It is estimated that more than 2,500 people were diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2022. The average age at diagnosis is 70 years old.
Stomach cancer signs and symptoms
a painful or burning sensation in the abdomen
heartburn or indigestion (dyspepsia)
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
Causes of stomach cancer
Some factors that can increase your risk of stomach cancer include:
being aged over 60
infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori
a diet high in smoked, pickled and salted foods and low in fresh fruit and vegetables
being overweight or obese
pernicious anaemia (low red blood cells)
chronic gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)
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.
Diagnosis of 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.
After a diagnosis of stomach cancer
After being diagnosed with a stomach cancer, you may feel shocked, upset, anxious or confused. These are normal responses. A diagnosis of a stomach or oesophageal cancer affects each person differently. For most it will be a difficult time, however some people manage to continue with their normal daily activities.
You may find it helpful to talk about your treatment options with your doctors, family and friends. Ask questions and seek as much information as you feel you need. It is up to you as to how involved you want to be in making decisions about your treatment.
Learn more about best stomach cancer care:
Treatment for stomach cancer
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
- bone scan.
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.
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.
Treatment TeamDepending on your treatment, your treatment team may consist of a number of different health professionals, such as:
- GP (General Practitioner) - looks after your general health and works with your specialists to coordinate treatment.
- Gastroenterologist - specialises in diseases of the digestive system.
- Upper gastrointestinal surgeon- specialises in surgery to treat diseases of the upper digestive system.
- Radiation oncologist - prescribes and coordinates radiation therapy treatment.
- Medical oncologist- prescribes and coordinates the course of chemotherapy
- Cancer nurse - assists with treatment and provides information and support throughout your treatment.
- Other allied health professionals - such as social workers, pharmacists, and counsellors.
Screening for stomach cancer
There is currently no national screening program for stomach cancer available in Australia.
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
- having a diet high in fresh vegetables and fruit
- treatment of Helicobacter pylori infection may be protective.
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.
- Understanding Stomach and Oesophageal Cancer, Cancer Council Australia, ©2021. Last medical review of source booklet: October 2021.
- Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. Cancer data in Australia. Canberra: AIHW, 2022.
This information was last updated January 2023.
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