Condition: Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is an abnormal growth of cells that begins in the stomach and can affect any part of the stomach.

Patient holding his stomach

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What is stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is a disease that is fairly common worldwide but less common in the UK. Over 700,000 cancer-related deaths are caused by stomach cancer worldwide but around 5,000 people develop stomach cancer every year in the UK.

Stomach cancer is more common in older people. Around half of stomach cancers develop in people aged 75 or over. Men are nearly twice as likely to get the disease compared to women.

Types of Stomach Cancer

There are many different types of stomach cancer. The vast majority of stomach cancers develop in the cells of the stomach lining and are known as adenocarcinomas.

In this type of cancer, the cells forming the inner lining of the stomach become abnormal and start to divide forming a mass (tumour) in part of the stomach.

Other, less common types of stomach cancer include:

  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumours (GIST), where the cancer starts in your stomach wall
  • Lymphomas, where the cancer starts in your lymphatic system
  • Neuroendocrine (also called carcinoid) tumours, where the cancer starts in hormone-producing cells

Causes of stomach cancer

Medical experts are not sure why some stomach cells become cancerous. It is not known why only a few people develop stomach cancer. However, there are some key factors that may increase your risk of developing it. These include:

  • Gender – Stomach cancer is more common in men.
  • Age – 95% of people who develop stomach cancer are over 50 years old.
  • Helicobacter pylori infection (a common bacteria that can also cause stomach ulcers),
  • Diet – Not enough fruit and vegetables, and a diet high in processed meats, red meat or smoked foods
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol
  • Being overweight or obesity
  • Family history of gastric cancer
  • Long-term acid reflux
  • Inheriting a genetic change that causes a bowel disorder such as familial adenomatous polyposis or Lynch syndrome
  • Previous radiotherapy for other cancers

Symptoms of stomach cancer

In the early stages of stomach cancer, symptoms may not occur at all. For this reason, many people with stomach cancer are not diagnosed until it is already advanced.  Several symptoms of stomach cancer also are seen in other less serious conditions. So stomach cancer may be difficult to recognize at first.

Early Stomach Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of early stomach cancer can include:

  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)
  • Bloating after meals
  • Burping
  • Heartburn
  • Altered taste
  • Persistent Indigestion
  • Stomach ache (tummy ache) or pain in the breastbone
  • Trapped wind
  • Vomiting, which may contain blood

Advanced Stomach Cancer Symptoms

Symptoms of advanced stomach cancer can include:

  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Fluid in the abdomen
  • Blood in the stool (poo)
  • Anaemia (low red blood cells)

Diagnosis of stomach cancer

Since the symptoms of stomach cancer are similar to other gastric conditions, doctors can’t usually tell if you have stomach cancer without doing tests. These tests may include the following:

  • Upper GI endoscopy (Gastroscopy): A narrow, flexible, tube-like telescopic camera called an endoscope is used to look inside your stomach.
  • Biopsy: A small sample of tissue may be removed from your stomach and is sent to a laboratory to look for cancer cells.
  • Barium swallow: A test that involves drinking white barium liquid, which shows up on x-rays. This test can show any growths or abnormal looking areas in your oesophagus (food pipe)

Staging of Stomach Cancer

If tests show that you have stomach cancer, your specialists will recommend further tests to find out how advanced it is. This is called staging.

The ‘stage’ of cancer describes the size of cancer, and whether it has spread beyond its original site. If doctors know the stage of cancer, this helps them to decide on the most appropriate treatment.

Diagnostic same-day procedures at OneWelbeck

Our leading gastroenterology specialists have diagnosed and managed many patients with stomach cancer. Our Digestive Health Centre at OneWelbeck in London is equipped with cutting-edge technology to provide you with fast, high-quality diagnostic services. Most of these services can be conducted as day-case procedures, without the need for overnight stay. It may take a few days for the results of laboratory tests from a biopsy to become available.

Treatment of stomach cancer

If stomach cancer is found at an early stage, then treatment for this condition can be successful. Without treatment, stomach cancer can spread to other parts of the body or organs, such as your liver. Surgery, chemotherapy and radiotherapy are all treatments for stomach cancer.

At OneWelbeck, you can discuss your stomach cancer treatments options with a gastro-intestinal specialist. They will be able to give you details about those that may be more suitable for your individual personal and healthcare needs.


The main treatment for stomach cancer is surgery. If your cancer is diagnosed at an early stage, it may be possible to completely remove the cancer with surgery.

The type of surgery you need for cancer of the stomach depends on which part of the stomach the cancer is in. These surgeries are:

  • Partial gastrectomy: This procedure removes part of the stomach. Doctors typically remove lymph nodes and fatty tissue as well to help ensure all the cancer is gone.
  • Total gastrectomy: In this procedure, the entire stomach is removed, along with surrounding lymph nodes and fatty tissue. During this surgery, the surgeon will connect the oesophagus to the intestines. A surgeon may create a new “stomach,” or pouch, by folding over a portion of the intestines, to allow for more effective digestion.


Chemotherapy uses anti-cancer medicines to kill cancer cells or stop them from multiplying. This treatment can be given before stomach surgery to make the tumour easier to remove, and after surgery to stop cancer cells from coming back.


Radiation therapy can be used to slow the growth and ease the symptoms of advanced stomach cancer, such as pain, bleeding, and eating problems. Radiotherapy can also be given after stomach cancer surgery to kill any cancer cells that might remain.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can stomach cancer be cured?

Without treatment, stomach cancer is likely to get larger, and spread to other parts of the body. If it is diagnosed and treated at an early stage, then there is a good chance of curing stomach cancer with surgery. If it is diagnosed at a more advanced stage, then chemotherapy and radiation can also be used to slow the cancer growth and manage the condition.

However, in the UK, most cases of stomach cancer are not diagnosed at an early stage, which is why it is important to investigate any signs of stomach cancer through qualified specialists for an accurate diagnosis.

What follow up will I need after treatment?

After your treatment has finished, you will get regular check-ups at the hospital. These may be every 3 months or so to start with. These tests will usually include a physical examination and scans or X-rays. The appointments will gradually become less frequent but will probably continue for several years.