Disease: Stomach Cancer

    Stomach cancer facts*

    *Stomach cancer facts medical author: Charles P. Davis, MD, PhD

    • The stomach is a hollow organ that liquefies food and is part of the digestive system.
    • Cancer is the growth of abnormal (malignant) body cells: stomach cancer cells spread by breaking away from other cancer cells and go into the bloodstream or lymphatics while others penetrate into organs near the stomach.
    • Although the cause of stomach cancer development is not known, risk factors include inflammation of the stomach, Helicobacter Pylori infection, smoking, poor diet, obesity, lack of physical activity, and the history of stomach cancer in the family.
    • The symptoms of stomach cancer may include discomfort and/or pain in the stomach, nausea and vomiting, weight loss, difficulty swallowing, vomiting blood, blood in the stool, and feeling full or bloated after a small meal.
    • Stomach cancer is diagnosed by a physical exam, medical history, endoscopy, and biopsy of the tissue.
    • Stomach cancer is staged according to where the cancers found and how far it has invaded the stomach tissue, or if it has spread beyond the stomach and into other organs (stages 0 to IV).
    • The treatment of stomach cancer depends on the size and location of the tumor, the stage of the disease and the patient's general health.
    • Surgery is done to remove cancer tissue; in general, two procedures are common: partial (subtotal) gastrectomy and total gastrectomy.
    • Chemotherapy is the use of drugs to kill cancer cells: it may be used before or after surgery.
    • Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells: it is used frequently along with chemotherapy.
    • Many doctors recommend getting a second opinion before starting treatment: this article provides contact phone numbers to several institutions that can help find a doctor to give a second opinion.
    • Good nutrition after stomach surgery may require supplements like vitamins and minerals, plus changing your eating habits.
    • Surgery, a stent placement, radiation therapy, and laser therapy are treatment options for cancers that block the gastrointestinal (GI) tract.
    • Tests to rule out recurrence of cancer; complementary and alternative medicine should be discussed with you doctor.
    • There are support groups for cancer patients; contact information is listed.
    • Contact information for joining clinical trials is also included in this article.

    What is the stomach

    The stomach is a hollow organ in the upper abdomen, under the ribs.

    It's part of the digestive system. Food moves from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach. In the stomach, the food becomes liquid. Muscles in the stomach wall push the liquid into the small intestine.

    The wall of the stomach has five layers:

    • Inner layer or lining (mucosa): Juices made by glands in the inner layer help digest food. Most stomach cancers begin in this layer.
    • Submucosa: This is the support tissue for the inner layer.
    • Muscle layer: Muscles in this layer contract to mix, squeeze, and break up the food.
    • Subserosa: This is the support tissue for the outer layer.
    • Outer layer (serosa): The outer layer covers the stomach. It holds the stomach in place.

    What is cancer and how does stomach cancer spread?

    Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the organs of the body.

    Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place.

    Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old or damaged cells do not die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth, polyp, or tumor. The types of cells making up the tumor determine how the tumor will behave.

    Tumors in the stomach can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Benign tumors are not as harmful as malignant tumors:

    • Benign tumors:
      • are rarely a threat to life
      • can be removed and usually don't grow back
      • don't invade the tissues around them
      • don't spread to other parts of the body
    • Malignant tumors:
      • may be a threat to life
      • often can be removed but sometimes grow back
      • can invade and damage nearby organs and tissues
      • can spread to other parts of the body

    Stomach cancer usually begins in cells in the inner layer of the stomach. Over time, the cancer may invade more deeply into the stomach wall. A stomach cancer can grow through the stomach's outer layer into nearby organs, such as the liver, pancreas, esophagus, or intestine.

    Stomach cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the original tumor. They enter blood vessels or lymph vessels, through which they can travel to all the tissues of the body. This process is called metastasis. The cancer cells be found in lymph nodes near the stomach. The cancer cells may invade or attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumors called metastases that may damage those tissues.

    What are the risk factors and causes of stomach cancer?

    When you're told that you have stomach cancer, it's natural to wonder what may have caused the disease. But no one knows the exact causes of stomach cancer. Doctors seldom know why one person develops stomach cancer and another doesn't.

    Doctors do know that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop stomach cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease.

    Studies have found the following risk factors for stomach cancer:

    • Helicobacter pylori infection: H. pylori is a bacterium that commonly infects the inner lining (the mucosa) of the stomach. Infection with H. pylori can cause stomach inflammation and peptic ulcers. It also increases the risk of stomach cancer, but only a small number of infected people develop stomach cancer.
    • Long-term inflammation of the stomach: People who have conditions associated with long-term stomach inflammation (such as the blood disease pernicious anemia) are at increased risk of stomach cancer. Also, people who have had part of their stomach removed may have long-term stomach inflammation and increased risk of stomach cancer many years after their surgery.
    • Smoking: Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop stomach cancer. Heavy smokers are most at risk.
    • Family history: Close relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, or children) of a person with a history of stomach cancer are somewhat more likely to develop the disease themselves. If many close relatives have a history of stomach cancer, the risk is even greater.
    • Poor diet, lack of physical activity, or obesity:
      • Studies suggest that people who eat a diet high in foods that are smoked, salted, or pickled have an increased risk for stomach cancer. On the other hand, people who eat a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables may have a lower risk of this disease.
      • A lack of physical activity may increase the risk of stomach cancer.
      • Also, people who are obese may have an increased risk of cancer developing in the upper part of the stomach.

    Most people who have known risk factors do not develop stomach cancer. For example, many people have an H. pylori infection but never develop cancer.

    On the other hand, people who do develop the disease sometimes have no known risk factors.

    What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?

    Early stomach cancer often does not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, the most common symptoms are:

    • Discomfort or pain in the stomach area
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Weight loss
    • Feeling full or bloated after a small meal
    • Vomiting blood or having blood in the stool

    Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer. Other health problems, such as an ulcer or infection, can cause the same symptoms. Anyone who has these symptoms should tell their doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

    How is stomach cancer diagnosed?

    If you have symptoms that suggest stomach cancer, your doctor will check to see whether they are due to cancer or to some other cause. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a doctor whose specialty is diagnosing and treating digestive problems.

    Your doctor will ask about your personal and family health history. You may have blood or other lab tests. You also may have:

    • Physical exam: Your doctor feels your abdomen for fluid, swelling, or other changes. Your doctor also will check for swollen lymph nodes.
    • Endoscopy: Your doctor uses a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) to look into your stomach. Your doctor first numbs your throat with an anesthetic spray. You also may receive medicine to help you relax. The tube is passed through your mouth and esophagus to the stomach.
    • Biopsy: An endoscope has a tool for removing tissue. Your doctor uses the endoscope to remove tissue from the stomach. A pathologist checks the tissue under a microscope for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if cancer cells are present.

    You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having a biopsy:

    • How will the biopsy be done?
    • Will it hurt?
    • Are there any risks? What are the chances of infection or bleeding after the biopsy?
    • When can I resume my normal diet?
    • How soon will I know the results?
    • If I do have cancer, who will talk to me about next steps? When?

    How is staging determined?

    If the biopsy shows that you have stomach cancer, your doctor needs to learn the stage (extent) of the disease to help you choose the best treatment.

    Staging is a careful attempt to find out the following:

    • How deeply the tumor invades the wall of the stomach
    • Whether the stomach tumor has invaded nearby tissues
    • Whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body.

    When stomach cancer spreads, cancer cells may be found in nearby lymph nodes, the liver, the pancreas, esophagus, intestine, or other organs. Your doctor may order blood tests and other tests to check these areas:

    • Chest x-ray: An x-ray of your chest can show whether cancer has spread to the lungs.
    • CT scan: An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your organs. You may receive an injection of dye. The dye makes abnormal areas easier to see. Tumors in your liver, pancreas, or elsewhere in the body can show up on a CT scan.
    • Endoscopic ultrasound: Your doctor passes a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) down your throat. A probe at the end of the tube sends out sound waves that you cannot hear. The waves bounce off tissues in your stomach and other organs. A computer creates a picture from the echoes. The picture can show how deeply the cancer has invaded the wall of the stomach. Your doctor may use a needle to take tissue samples of lymph nodes.
    • PET Scan: A small amount of radioactive sugar is injected into a vein. A short time later, a series of pictures are taken to look for the radioactivity. Cancer cells use sugar differently that normal tissues and can concentrate the radioactive sugar. The test is usually done in conjunction with a CT scan to help define the extent of the stomach cancer.
    • Laparoscopy: A surgeon makes small incisions (cuts) in your abdomen. The surgeon inserts a thin, lighted tube (laparoscope) into the abdomen. The surgeon may remove lymph nodes or take tissue samples for biopsy.

    Sometimes staging is not complete until after surgery to remove the tumor and nearby lymph nodes.

    When stomach cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary (original) tumor. For example, if stomach cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually stomach cancer cells. The disease is metastatic stomach cancer, not liver cancer. For that reason, it is treated as stomach cancer, not liver cancer. Doctors call the new tumor "distant" or metastatic disease.

    These are the stages of stomach cancer:

    • Stage 0: The tumor is found only in the inner layer of the stomach. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.
    • Stage I is one of the following:
      • The tumor has invaded only the submucosa. Cancer cells may be found in up to 6 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has invaded the muscle layer or subserosa. Cancer cells have not spread to lymph nodes or other organs.
    • Stage II is one of the following:
      • The tumor has invaded only the submucosa. Cancer cells have spread to 7 to 15 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has invaded the muscle layer or subserosa. Cancer cells have spread to 1 to 6 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has penetrated the outer layer of the stomach. Cancer cells have not spread to lymph nodes or other organs.
    • Stage III is one of the following:
      • The tumor has invaded the muscle layer or subserosa. Cancer cells have spread to 7 to 15 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has penetrated the outer layer. Cancer cells have spread to 1 to 15 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has invaded nearby organs, such as the liver, colon, or spleen. Cancer cells have not spread to lymph nodes or to distant organs.
    • Stage IV is one of the following:
      • Cancer cells have spread to more than 15 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has invaded nearby organs and at least 1 lymph node.
      • Or, cancer cells have spread to distant organs.

    What is the treatment for stomach cancer?

    The choice of treatment depends mainly on the size and location of the tumor, the stage of disease, and your general health.

    Treatment for stomach cancer may involve surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. You'll probably receive more than one type of treatment. For example, chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery. It's often given at the same time as radiation therapy.

    You may want to talk with your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial, a research study of new treatment methods. Clinical trials are an important option for people at any stage of stomach cancer.

    You may have a team of specialists to help plan your treatment. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, or you may ask for a referral. Specialists who treat stomach cancer include gastroenterologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. Your health care team may also include an oncology nurse and a registered dietitian.

    Your health care team can describe your treatment choices, the expected results, and the possible side effects. Because cancer therapy often damages healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. Before treatment starts, ask your health care team about possible side effects, how to prevent or reduce these effects, and how treatment may change your normal activities. You and your health care team can work together to make a treatment plan that meets your needs.

    You may want to ask your doctor these questions before you begin treatment:

    • What is the stage of the disease? Has the cancer spread? Do any lymph nodes show signs of cancer?
    • What is the goal of treatment? What are my treatment choices? Which do you suggest for me? Why?
    • What are the expected benefits of each kind of treatment?
    • What can I do to prepare for treatment?
    • Will I need to stay in the hospital? If so, for how long?
    • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment? How can side effects be managed?
    • What is the treatment likely to cost? Will my insurance cover it?
    • How will treatment affect my normal activities? Am I likely to have eating or other problems?
    • Would a research study (clinical trial) be a good choice for me?
    • Can you recommend other doctors who could give me a second opinion about my treatment options?
    • How often should I have checkups?

    Surgery

    The type of surgery for stomach cancer depends mainly on where the cancer is located. The surgeon may remove the whole stomach or only the part that has the cancer.

    You and your surgeon can talk about the types of surgery and which may be right for you:

    • Partial (subtotal) gastrectomy for tumors at the lower part of the stomach: The surgeon removes the lower part of the stomach with the cancer. The surgeon attaches the remaining part of the stomach to the intestine. Nearby lymph nodes and other tissues may also be removed.
    • Total gastrectomy for tumors at the upper part of the stomach: The surgeon removes the entire stomach, nearby lymph nodes, parts of the esophagus and small intestine, and other tissues near the tumor. Rarely, the spleen also may be removed. The surgeon then connects the esophagus directly to the small intestine.

    The time it takes to heal after surgery is different for each person, and you may be in the hospital for a week or longer. You may have pain for the first few days. Medicine can help control your pain. Before surgery, you should discuss the plan for pain relief with your doctor or nurse. After surgery, your doctor can adjust the plan if you need more pain relief.

    Many people who have stomach surgery feel tired or weak for a while. Your health care team will watch for signs of bleeding, infection, or other problems that may require treatment.

    The surgery can also cause constipation or diarrhea. These symptoms usually can be controlled with diet changes and medicine. See the Nutrition section for information about eating after surgery.

    You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having surgery:

    • What kind of surgery do you recommend for me? Why?
    • Will you remove lymph nodes? Will you remove other tissue? Why?
    • How will I feel after surgery?
    • Will I need a special diet?
    • If I have pain, how will you control it?
    • How long will I be in the hospital?
    • Am I likely to have eating problems?
    • Will I have any long-term side effects?

    Chemotherapy

    Most people with stomach cancer get chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.

    It may be given before or after surgery. After surgery, radiation therapy may be given along with chemotherapy.

    The drugs that treat stomach cancer are usually given through a vein (intravenous). You'll probably receive a combination of drugs.

    You may receive chemotherapy in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. Some people need to stay in the hospital during treatment.

    The side effects depend mainly on which drugs are given and how much. Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, but the drugs can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly:

    • Blood cells: When drugs lower the levels of healthy blood cells, you're more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your health care team will check for low levels of blood cells. If your levels are low, your health care team may stop the chemotherapy for a while or reduce the dose of the drug. There are also medicines that can help your body make new blood cells.
    • Cells in hair roots: Chemotherapy may cause hair loss. If you lose your hair, it will grow back after treatment, but the color and texture may be changed.
    • Cells that line the digestive tract: Chemotherapy can cause a poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Your health care team can give you medicines and suggest other ways to help with these problems. They usually go away when treatment ends.

    Some drugs used for stomach cancer also may cause a skin rash, hearing loss, and tingling or numbness in your hands and feet. Your health care team can suggest ways to control many of these side effects.

    You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having chemotherapy:

    • Why do I need this treatment?
    • Which drug or drugs will I have?
    • How do the drugs work?
    • When will treatment start?
    • When will it end?
    • Will I have any long-term side effects?

    Radiation therapy

    Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells only in the part of the body that is treated. Radiation therapy is usually given with chemotherapy to treat stomach cancer.

    The radiation comes from a large machine outside the body. You'll go to a hospital or clinic for treatment. Treatments are usually 5 days a week for several weeks.

    Side effects depend mainly on the dose and type of radiation. External radiation therapy to the chest and abdomen may cause a sore throat, pain similar to heartburn, or pain in the stomach or the intestine. You may have nausea and diarrhea. Your health care team can give you medicines to prevent or control these problems.

    It's common for the skin in the treated area to become red, dry, tender, and itchy.

    You're likely to become very tired during radiation therapy, especially in the later weeks of treatment. Resting is important, but doctors usually advise patients to try to stay active, unless it leads to pain or other problems.

    Although the side effects of radiation therapy can be distressing, your doctor can usually treat or control them. Also, side effects usually go away after treatment ends.

    You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having radiation therapy:

    • Why do I need this treatment?
    • When will the treatments begin?
    • When will they end?
    • How will I feel during treatment?
    • How will we know if the radiation treatment is working?
    • Will I have any long-term side effects?

    How do I go about getting a second opinion?

    Before starting treatment, you might want a second opinion from another doctor about your diagnosis and treatment plan. Some people worry that their doctor will be offended if they ask for a second opinion. Usually the opposite is true. Most doctors welcome a second opinion. And many health insurance companies will pay for a second opinion if you or your doctor requests it. Some companies require a second opinion.

    If you get a second opinion, the doctor may agree with your first doctor's diagnosis and treatment plan. Or the second doctor may suggest another approach. Either way, you'll have more information and perhaps a greater sense of control. You may also feel more confident about the decisions you make, knowing that you've looked carefully at your options.

    It may take some time and effort to gather your medical records and see another doctor. Usually it's not a problem if it takes you several weeks to get a second opinion. In most cases, the delay in starting treatment will not make treatment less effective. To make sure, you should discuss this possible delay with your doctor. Some people with stomach cancer need treatment right away.

    There are many ways to find a doctor for a second opinion. You can ask your doctor, a local or state medical society, a nearby hospital, or a medical school for names of specialists.

    Also, you can request a consultation with specialists at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Specialists in the NCI Surgery Branch provide consultations and surgical care for people with stomach cancer. The telephone number is 301-496-4164. The Web site is located at http://ccr.cancer.gov/labs/lab.asp?labid=93.

    The NCI Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or at LiveHelp (http://www.cancer.gov/help) can tell you about nearby treatment centers.

    What is the stomach

    The stomach is a hollow organ in the upper abdomen, under the ribs.

    It's part of the digestive system. Food moves from the mouth through the esophagus to the stomach. In the stomach, the food becomes liquid. Muscles in the stomach wall push the liquid into the small intestine.

    The wall of the stomach has five layers:

    • Inner layer or lining (mucosa): Juices made by glands in the inner layer help digest food. Most stomach cancers begin in this layer.
    • Submucosa: This is the support tissue for the inner layer.
    • Muscle layer: Muscles in this layer contract to mix, squeeze, and break up the food.
    • Subserosa: This is the support tissue for the outer layer.
    • Outer layer (serosa): The outer layer covers the stomach. It holds the stomach in place.

    What is cancer and how does stomach cancer spread?

    Cancer begins in cells, the building blocks that make up tissues. Tissues make up the organs of the body.

    Normally, cells grow and divide to form new cells as the body needs them. When cells grow old, they die, and new cells take their place.

    Sometimes, this process goes wrong. New cells form when the body does not need them, and old or damaged cells do not die as they should. The buildup of extra cells often forms a mass of tissue called a growth, polyp, or tumor. The types of cells making up the tumor determine how the tumor will behave.

    Tumors in the stomach can be benign (not cancer) or malignant (cancer). Benign tumors are not as harmful as malignant tumors:

    • Benign tumors:
      • are rarely a threat to life
      • can be removed and usually don't grow back
      • don't invade the tissues around them
      • don't spread to other parts of the body
    • Malignant tumors:
      • may be a threat to life
      • often can be removed but sometimes grow back
      • can invade and damage nearby organs and tissues
      • can spread to other parts of the body

    Stomach cancer usually begins in cells in the inner layer of the stomach. Over time, the cancer may invade more deeply into the stomach wall. A stomach cancer can grow through the stomach's outer layer into nearby organs, such as the liver, pancreas, esophagus, or intestine.

    Stomach cancer cells can spread by breaking away from the original tumor. They enter blood vessels or lymph vessels, through which they can travel to all the tissues of the body. This process is called metastasis. The cancer cells be found in lymph nodes near the stomach. The cancer cells may invade or attach to other tissues and grow to form new tumors called metastases that may damage those tissues.

    What are the risk factors and causes of stomach cancer?

    When you're told that you have stomach cancer, it's natural to wonder what may have caused the disease. But no one knows the exact causes of stomach cancer. Doctors seldom know why one person develops stomach cancer and another doesn't.

    Doctors do know that people with certain risk factors are more likely than others to develop stomach cancer. A risk factor is something that may increase the chance of getting a disease.

    Studies have found the following risk factors for stomach cancer:

    • Helicobacter pylori infection: H. pylori is a bacterium that commonly infects the inner lining (the mucosa) of the stomach. Infection with H. pylori can cause stomach inflammation and peptic ulcers. It also increases the risk of stomach cancer, but only a small number of infected people develop stomach cancer.
    • Long-term inflammation of the stomach: People who have conditions associated with long-term stomach inflammation (such as the blood disease pernicious anemia) are at increased risk of stomach cancer. Also, people who have had part of their stomach removed may have long-term stomach inflammation and increased risk of stomach cancer many years after their surgery.
    • Smoking: Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop stomach cancer. Heavy smokers are most at risk.
    • Family history: Close relatives (parents, brothers, sisters, or children) of a person with a history of stomach cancer are somewhat more likely to develop the disease themselves. If many close relatives have a history of stomach cancer, the risk is even greater.
    • Poor diet, lack of physical activity, or obesity:
      • Studies suggest that people who eat a diet high in foods that are smoked, salted, or pickled have an increased risk for stomach cancer. On the other hand, people who eat a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables may have a lower risk of this disease.
      • A lack of physical activity may increase the risk of stomach cancer.
      • Also, people who are obese may have an increased risk of cancer developing in the upper part of the stomach.

    Most people who have known risk factors do not develop stomach cancer. For example, many people have an H. pylori infection but never develop cancer.

    On the other hand, people who do develop the disease sometimes have no known risk factors.

    What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?

    Early stomach cancer often does not cause symptoms. As the cancer grows, the most common symptoms are:

    • Discomfort or pain in the stomach area
    • Difficulty swallowing
    • Nausea and vomiting
    • Weight loss
    • Feeling full or bloated after a small meal
    • Vomiting blood or having blood in the stool

    Most often, these symptoms are not due to cancer. Other health problems, such as an ulcer or infection, can cause the same symptoms. Anyone who has these symptoms should tell their doctor so that problems can be diagnosed and treated as early as possible.

    How is stomach cancer diagnosed?

    If you have symptoms that suggest stomach cancer, your doctor will check to see whether they are due to cancer or to some other cause. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a doctor whose specialty is diagnosing and treating digestive problems.

    Your doctor will ask about your personal and family health history. You may have blood or other lab tests. You also may have:

    • Physical exam: Your doctor feels your abdomen for fluid, swelling, or other changes. Your doctor also will check for swollen lymph nodes.
    • Endoscopy: Your doctor uses a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) to look into your stomach. Your doctor first numbs your throat with an anesthetic spray. You also may receive medicine to help you relax. The tube is passed through your mouth and esophagus to the stomach.
    • Biopsy: An endoscope has a tool for removing tissue. Your doctor uses the endoscope to remove tissue from the stomach. A pathologist checks the tissue under a microscope for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if cancer cells are present.

    You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having a biopsy:

    • How will the biopsy be done?
    • Will it hurt?
    • Are there any risks? What are the chances of infection or bleeding after the biopsy?
    • When can I resume my normal diet?
    • How soon will I know the results?
    • If I do have cancer, who will talk to me about next steps? When?

    How is staging determined?

    If the biopsy shows that you have stomach cancer, your doctor needs to learn the stage (extent) of the disease to help you choose the best treatment.

    Staging is a careful attempt to find out the following:

    • How deeply the tumor invades the wall of the stomach
    • Whether the stomach tumor has invaded nearby tissues
    • Whether the cancer has spread and, if so, to what parts of the body.

    When stomach cancer spreads, cancer cells may be found in nearby lymph nodes, the liver, the pancreas, esophagus, intestine, or other organs. Your doctor may order blood tests and other tests to check these areas:

    • Chest x-ray: An x-ray of your chest can show whether cancer has spread to the lungs.
    • CT scan: An x-ray machine linked to a computer takes a series of detailed pictures of your organs. You may receive an injection of dye. The dye makes abnormal areas easier to see. Tumors in your liver, pancreas, or elsewhere in the body can show up on a CT scan.
    • Endoscopic ultrasound: Your doctor passes a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) down your throat. A probe at the end of the tube sends out sound waves that you cannot hear. The waves bounce off tissues in your stomach and other organs. A computer creates a picture from the echoes. The picture can show how deeply the cancer has invaded the wall of the stomach. Your doctor may use a needle to take tissue samples of lymph nodes.
    • PET Scan: A small amount of radioactive sugar is injected into a vein. A short time later, a series of pictures are taken to look for the radioactivity. Cancer cells use sugar differently that normal tissues and can concentrate the radioactive sugar. The test is usually done in conjunction with a CT scan to help define the extent of the stomach cancer.
    • Laparoscopy: A surgeon makes small incisions (cuts) in your abdomen. The surgeon inserts a thin, lighted tube (laparoscope) into the abdomen. The surgeon may remove lymph nodes or take tissue samples for biopsy.

    Sometimes staging is not complete until after surgery to remove the tumor and nearby lymph nodes.

    When stomach cancer spreads from its original place to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary (original) tumor. For example, if stomach cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually stomach cancer cells. The disease is metastatic stomach cancer, not liver cancer. For that reason, it is treated as stomach cancer, not liver cancer. Doctors call the new tumor "distant" or metastatic disease.

    These are the stages of stomach cancer:

    • Stage 0: The tumor is found only in the inner layer of the stomach. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.
    • Stage I is one of the following:
      • The tumor has invaded only the submucosa. Cancer cells may be found in up to 6 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has invaded the muscle layer or subserosa. Cancer cells have not spread to lymph nodes or other organs.
    • Stage II is one of the following:
      • The tumor has invaded only the submucosa. Cancer cells have spread to 7 to 15 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has invaded the muscle layer or subserosa. Cancer cells have spread to 1 to 6 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has penetrated the outer layer of the stomach. Cancer cells have not spread to lymph nodes or other organs.
    • Stage III is one of the following:
      • The tumor has invaded the muscle layer or subserosa. Cancer cells have spread to 7 to 15 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has penetrated the outer layer. Cancer cells have spread to 1 to 15 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has invaded nearby organs, such as the liver, colon, or spleen. Cancer cells have not spread to lymph nodes or to distant organs.
    • Stage IV is one of the following:
      • Cancer cells have spread to more than 15 lymph nodes.
      • Or, the tumor has invaded nearby organs and at least 1 lymph node.
      • Or, cancer cells have spread to distant organs.

    What is the treatment for stomach cancer?

    The choice of treatment depends mainly on the size and location of the tumor, the stage of disease, and your general health.

    Treatment for stomach cancer may involve surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation therapy. You'll probably receive more than one type of treatment. For example, chemotherapy may be given before or after surgery. It's often given at the same time as radiation therapy.

    You may want to talk with your doctor about taking part in a clinical trial, a research study of new treatment methods. Clinical trials are an important option for people at any stage of stomach cancer.

    You may have a team of specialists to help plan your treatment. Your doctor may refer you to a specialist, or you may ask for a referral. Specialists who treat stomach cancer include gastroenterologists, surgeons, medical oncologists, and radiation oncologists. Your health care team may also include an oncology nurse and a registered dietitian.

    Your health care team can describe your treatment choices, the expected results, and the possible side effects. Because cancer therapy often damages healthy cells and tissues, side effects are common. Before treatment starts, ask your health care team about possible side effects, how to prevent or reduce these effects, and how treatment may change your normal activities. You and your health care team can work together to make a treatment plan that meets your needs.

    You may want to ask your doctor these questions before you begin treatment:

    • What is the stage of the disease? Has the cancer spread? Do any lymph nodes show signs of cancer?
    • What is the goal of treatment? What are my treatment choices? Which do you suggest for me? Why?
    • What are the expected benefits of each kind of treatment?
    • What can I do to prepare for treatment?
    • Will I need to stay in the hospital? If so, for how long?
    • What are the risks and possible side effects of each treatment? How can side effects be managed?
    • What is the treatment likely to cost? Will my insurance cover it?
    • How will treatment affect my normal activities? Am I likely to have eating or other problems?
    • Would a research study (clinical trial) be a good choice for me?
    • Can you recommend other doctors who could give me a second opinion about my treatment options?
    • How often should I have checkups?

    Surgery

    The type of surgery for stomach cancer depends mainly on where the cancer is located. The surgeon may remove the whole stomach or only the part that has the cancer.

    You and your surgeon can talk about the types of surgery and which may be right for you:

    • Partial (subtotal) gastrectomy for tumors at the lower part of the stomach: The surgeon removes the lower part of the stomach with the cancer. The surgeon attaches the remaining part of the stomach to the intestine. Nearby lymph nodes and other tissues may also be removed.
    • Total gastrectomy for tumors at the upper part of the stomach: The surgeon removes the entire stomach, nearby lymph nodes, parts of the esophagus and small intestine, and other tissues near the tumor. Rarely, the spleen also may be removed. The surgeon then connects the esophagus directly to the small intestine.

    The time it takes to heal after surgery is different for each person, and you may be in the hospital for a week or longer. You may have pain for the first few days. Medicine can help control your pain. Before surgery, you should discuss the plan for pain relief with your doctor or nurse. After surgery, your doctor can adjust the plan if you need more pain relief.

    Many people who have stomach surgery feel tired or weak for a while. Your health care team will watch for signs of bleeding, infection, or other problems that may require treatment.

    The surgery can also cause constipation or diarrhea. These symptoms usually can be controlled with diet changes and medicine. See the Nutrition section for information about eating after surgery.

    You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having surgery:

    • What kind of surgery do you recommend for me? Why?
    • Will you remove lymph nodes? Will you remove other tissue? Why?
    • How will I feel after surgery?
    • Will I need a special diet?
    • If I have pain, how will you control it?
    • How long will I be in the hospital?
    • Am I likely to have eating problems?
    • Will I have any long-term side effects?

    Chemotherapy

    Most people with stomach cancer get chemotherapy. Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells.

    It may be given before or after surgery. After surgery, radiation therapy may be given along with chemotherapy.

    The drugs that treat stomach cancer are usually given through a vein (intravenous). You'll probably receive a combination of drugs.

    You may receive chemotherapy in an outpatient part of the hospital, at the doctor's office, or at home. Some people need to stay in the hospital during treatment.

    The side effects depend mainly on which drugs are given and how much. Chemotherapy kills fast-growing cancer cells, but the drugs can also harm normal cells that divide rapidly:

    • Blood cells: When drugs lower the levels of healthy blood cells, you're more likely to get infections, bruise or bleed easily, and feel very weak and tired. Your health care team will check for low levels of blood cells. If your levels are low, your health care team may stop the chemotherapy for a while or reduce the dose of the drug. There are also medicines that can help your body make new blood cells.
    • Cells in hair roots: Chemotherapy may cause hair loss. If you lose your hair, it will grow back after treatment, but the color and texture may be changed.
    • Cells that line the digestive tract: Chemotherapy can cause a poor appetite, nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, or mouth and lip sores. Your health care team can give you medicines and suggest other ways to help with these problems. They usually go away when treatment ends.

    Some drugs used for stomach cancer also may cause a skin rash, hearing loss, and tingling or numbness in your hands and feet. Your health care team can suggest ways to control many of these side effects.

    You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having chemotherapy:

    • Why do I need this treatment?
    • Which drug or drugs will I have?
    • How do the drugs work?
    • When will treatment start?
    • When will it end?
    • Will I have any long-term side effects?

    Radiation therapy

    Radiation therapy (also called radiotherapy) uses high-energy rays to kill cancer cells. It affects cells only in the part of the body that is treated. Radiation therapy is usually given with chemotherapy to treat stomach cancer.

    The radiation comes from a large machine outside the body. You'll go to a hospital or clinic for treatment. Treatments are usually 5 days a week for several weeks.

    Side effects depend mainly on the dose and type of radiation. External radiation therapy to the chest and abdomen may cause a sore throat, pain similar to heartburn, or pain in the stomach or the intestine. You may have nausea and diarrhea. Your health care team can give you medicines to prevent or control these problems.

    It's common for the skin in the treated area to become red, dry, tender, and itchy.

    You're likely to become very tired during radiation therapy, especially in the later weeks of treatment. Resting is important, but doctors usually advise patients to try to stay active, unless it leads to pain or other problems.

    Although the side effects of radiation therapy can be distressing, your doctor can usually treat or control them. Also, side effects usually go away after treatment ends.

    You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having radiation therapy:

    • Why do I need this treatment?
    • When will the treatments begin?
    • When will they end?
    • How will I feel during treatment?
    • How will we know if the radiation treatment is working?
    • Will I have any long-term side effects?

    How do I go about getting a second opinion?

    Before starting treatment, you might want a second opinion from another doctor about your diagnosis and treatment plan. Some people worry that their doctor will be offended if they ask for a second opinion. Usually the opposite is true. Most doctors welcome a second opinion. And many health insurance companies will pay for a second opinion if you or your doctor requests it. Some companies require a second opinion.

    If you get a second opinion, the doctor may agree with your first doctor's diagnosis and treatment plan. Or the second doctor may suggest another approach. Either way, you'll have more information and perhaps a greater sense of control. You may also feel more confident about the decisions you make, knowing that you've looked carefully at your options.

    It may take some time and effort to gather your medical records and see another doctor. Usually it's not a problem if it takes you several weeks to get a second opinion. In most cases, the delay in starting treatment will not make treatment less effective. To make sure, you should discuss this possible delay with your doctor. Some people with stomach cancer need treatment right away.

    There are many ways to find a doctor for a second opinion. You can ask your doctor, a local or state medical society, a nearby hospital, or a medical school for names of specialists.

    Also, you can request a consultation with specialists at the National Institutes of Health Clinical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. Specialists in the NCI Surgery Branch provide consultations and surgical care for people with stomach cancer. The telephone number is 301-496-4164. The Web site is located at http://ccr.cancer.gov/labs/lab.asp?labid=93.

    The NCI Cancer Information Service at 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237) or at LiveHelp (http://www.cancer.gov/help) can tell you about nearby treatment centers.

    Source: http://www.rxlist.com

    If you have symptoms that suggest stomach cancer, your doctor will check to see whether they are due to cancer or to some other cause. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a doctor whose specialty is diagnosing and treating digestive problems.

    Your doctor will ask about your personal and family health history. You may have blood or other lab tests. You also may have:

    • Physical exam: Your doctor feels your abdomen for fluid, swelling, or other changes. Your doctor also will check for swollen lymph nodes.
    • Endoscopy: Your doctor uses a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) to look into your stomach. Your doctor first numbs your throat with an anesthetic spray. You also may receive medicine to help you relax. The tube is passed through your mouth and esophagus to the stomach.
    • Biopsy: An endoscope has a tool for removing tissue. Your doctor uses the endoscope to remove tissue from the stomach. A pathologist checks the tissue under a microscope for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if cancer cells are present.

    You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having a biopsy:

    • How will the biopsy be done?
    • Will it hurt?
    • Are there any risks? What are the chances of infection or bleeding after the biopsy?
    • When can I resume my normal diet?
    • How soon will I know the results?
    • If I do have cancer, who will talk to me about next steps? When?

      Source: http://www.rxlist.com

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