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About Stomach Cancer

  • What is stomach cancer?

    Stomach (gastric) cancer forms in the stomach, beginning in the cells, which are the building blocks that make up tissues of the stomach and other organs of the body. Stomach cancer begins in the lining of the mucosal (innermost) layer of the stomach and spreads through the stomach wall as it grows, often forming a mass called a tumor. The tumor can grow into nearby organs, such as the liver or esophagus. The cancerous cells can spread through blood or lymph vessels to other tissues in the body.

    Although a relatively uncommon disease in the United States, stomach cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the world. It is a challenging condition to treat, since patients usually aren't diagnosed until the cancer has advanced to the point where it causes symptoms.

    diagram of esophagus and stomach

    In the past two decades, our knowledge about stomach cancer has changed dramatically and prognosis has significantly improved. This is largely due to improved surgery and ICU care, as well as new therapies. Physicians at the Center for Esophageal and Gastric Cancer have a much better understanding of which patients are likely to benefit from a particular treatment approach or clinical trial, and can deliver a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation more precisely.

    Risk factors

    No one knows the exact causes of stomach cancer, but risk factors can include:

    • Having any of the following medical conditions:
      • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection of the stomach
      • Atrophic gastritis (chronic inflammation of the stomach)
      • Pernicious anemia
      • Intestinal metaplasia (a condition in which the normal stomach lining is replaced with the cells that line the intestines)
      • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or gastric polyps
      • Eating a diet high in salted, smoked foods, and low in fruits and vegetables
    • Eating foods that have not been prepared or stored properly
    • Being older or male
    • Smoking
    • Having a mother, father, sister, or brother who has had stomach cancer

    Signs and symptoms

    The early stages of stomach cancer usually don't produce physical symptoms. By the time symptoms are noticeable, the disease has usually become quite advanced. The signs and symptoms for stomach cancer can include:

    • A lack of appetite
    • Feeling full early
    • Vomiting
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Weight loss
    • Indigestion and stomach pain
    • Blood in the stool

    When stomach cancer is found very early, it is usually "accidental," meaning that patients are being examined for another reason when it's suspected and found. When stomach cancer is caught early, there is a better chance of recovery.