Symptoms

Stomach cancer is a cancer that's found anywhere in the stomach. It's very common in the UK.

There are many possible symptoms of stomach cancer.

Some are more obvious, such as:

  • losing weight without trying to
  • feeling or being sick
  • having problems swallowing (dysphagia)
  • a lump at the top of your tummy

Others might be harder to spot, such as:

  • heartburn or acid reflux
  • loss of appetite
  • symptoms of indigestion, such as burping a lot
  • feeling full very quickly when eating
  • pain at the top of your tummy
  • feeling tired or having no energy

If you have another condition, such as gastro-oesophageal reflux disease, you may get symptoms like these regularly.

You might find you get used to them. But it's important to be checked by a GP if your symptoms change, get worse, or do not feel normal for you.

Important

These symptoms are very common and can be caused by many different conditions. Having them does not definitely mean you have stomach cancer.

But it's important to get them checked by a GP. This is because if they're caused by cancer, finding it early makes it more treatable.

See a GP if you have:

  • any of these symptoms that get worse or do not get better after 3 weeks
  • a condition that causes symptoms like these, and your symptoms are not getting better after 3 weeks of using your usual treatments
  • problems swallowing
  • a lump in your tummy

What happens at the GP appointment

The GP may feel your tummy.

They may ask you to give a poo or pee sample, or have a blood test.

The GP may refer you to see a specialist in hospital for more tests if they think you have a condition that needs to be investigated.

This may be an urgent referral, usually within 2 weeks, if you have certain symptoms. This does not definitely mean you have cancer.

Cancer Research UK has more information and advice about seeing a GP sbout symptoms of stomach cancer.

Who can get it

Anyone can get stomach cancer.

It's not always clear what causes it, but you might be more likely to get stomach cancer if you:

  • are over the age of 50
  • are a man
  • have a long-term infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
  • have certain stomach conditions, such as long-term, severe acid reflux, gastritis or a condtion called pernicious anaemia, which effects your immune system
  • have a brother, sister or parent who had stomach cancer

Stomach cancer can also be linked to your lifestyle. You may be more likely to get it if you:

  • smoke
  • are very overweight
  • work in a job where you're exposed to certain chemicals, such as in the rubber industry or coal mining
  • have too much salt in your diet
  • drink too much alcohol
  • do not eat enough fruit and vegetables
  • eat a lot of processed meat (such as ham, bacon and salami)

You cannot always prevent stomach cancer. But because many stomach cancers are linked to lifestyle, making healthy changes can lower your chances of getting it.

It is important to get any symptoms of stomach cancer checked by a GP.

Even if you do not think you fit into any of the groups with a higher chance of getting it. Anyone can get stomach cancer.

Diagnosis

Camera test

A GP or specialist will probably refer you for a test to look inside your stomach.

This test is called a gastroscopy (a type of endoscopy). It looks for any problems in your stomach, including stomach cancer.

During a gastroscopy:

  1. A long, thin, flexible tube with a small camera inside (called an endoscope) will be put into your mouth, down your throat and into your stomach.
  2. A specialist will use the camera in the endoscope to look for any problems.
  3. A small sample of cells (called a biopsy) may be collected during the procedure. These cells will be sent to a laboratory to check for cancer.

The test should take around 10 to 15 minutes.

It should not be painful, but you might find it uncomfortable.

You may be offered things to make you more comfortable and make the test easier, such as:

  • sedation - medicine given through a small tube in your arm to help you relax
  • putting you to sleep (general anaesthetic)

Cancer Research UK has more information on having an endoscopy.

Many of the symptoms of stomach cancer can also be caused by other cancers in the area, such as cancer of the food pipe (oesophageal cancer) or pancreas (pancreatic cancer).

During a gastroscopy, the specialist will look for problems in your oesophagus, stomach, and the first part of the bowels (small intestine).

Getting your results

You should get the results of a gastroscopy and biopsy within 2 weeks.

A specialist will explain what the results mean and what will happen next.

If you're told you have stomach cancer

Being told you have stomach cancer can feel overwhelming. You may be feeling anxious about what will happen next.

A group of specialists will look after you throughout your diagnosis, treatment and recovery.

Your team will include a clinical nurse specialist who will be your main point of contact during and after treatment.

You can ask them any questions you have.

Advanced stomach cancer

If you are diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer, you will probably feel a huge range of emotions.

There is lots of support available for you and your loved ones.

Your clinical nurse specialist and the rest of your specialist team can recommend both local and national support services.

Important

Macmillan Cancer Support has a free helpline that's open every day from 8am to 8pm.

They're there to listen if you have anything you want to talk about.

Call: 0808 808 00 00

Other tests

Once you have been diagnosed with stomach cancer, you will need more tests. These will help the specialists find out the size of the cancer and how far it's spread (called the stage).

You may need:

  • an ultrasound scan inside your stomach using an endoscope, called an endoscopic ultrasound
  • a CT scan
  • a PET-CT scan
  • a small operation to look inside your stomach, called a laparoscopy

The specialists will use the results of these tests and work with you to decide on the best treatment plan for you.

Macmillan Cancer Support has information on tests after you have been diagnosed and what to expect.

 

Treatment

Treatment for stomach cancer

Stomach cancer is often treatable, but it can be difficult to treat.

The treatment will depend on:

  • the type and size of the stomach cancer you have
  • where it is
  • if it has spread
  • your general health

It usually includes surgery and chemotherapy. It may also include radiotherapy, and treatment with targeted medicines.

The specialist care team looking after you will:

  • explain the treatments, benefits and side effects
  • work with you to create a treatment plan that is best for you
  • help you manage any side effects, including changes to your diet
  • help and support you during you recover

You'll have regular check-ups during and after any treatments. You may also have tests and scans.

If you have any symptoms or side effects that you are worried about, talk to your specialists. You do not need to wait for your next check-up.

Surgery

Your treatment will depend on if the cancer can be removed or not.

If the cancer cannot be removed, you may have surgery to help control some symptoms of stomach cancer.

Surgery to remove stomach cancer

If stomach cancer is found early, has not spread or has not spread far you may be able to have surgery to remove it.

Surgery will remove part or all of the stomach. They may also need to remove parts of other organs around the stomach.

Recovery from surgery to treat stomach cancer can take a long time. The specialist team looking after you will discuss all the benefits and side effects.

Surgery to help control the symptoms of stomach cancer

You may need surgery to relieve a blockage in the stomach. This helps food pass through your stomach more easily.

The aim of this surgery is to help improve your symptoms, not to cure the cancer.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses medicines to kill cancer cells.

You may have chemotherapy for stomach cancer:

  • before and after surgery to help make the cancer smaller
  • after surgery to help stop the cancer coming back
  • at the same time as other treatments to help make them more effective
  • to help control and improve the symptoms of advanced cancer or if the cancer cannot be removed by surgery – sometimes given alongside treatment with targeted medicines

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses high-energy rays of radiation to kill cancer cells.

You may have radiotherapy for stomach cancer:

  • with chemotherapy (chemoradiotherapy) to help stop the cancer coming back
  • to help control and improve the symptoms for advanced cancer

Treatment with targeted medicines

Targeted cancer medicines aim to stop the cancer from growing.

You may have them with chemotherapy to treat advanced stomach cancer.

What happens if you’ve been told your cancer cannot be cured

If you have advanced stomach cancer, it might be very hard to treat. It may not be possible to cure the cancer.

If this is the case, the aim of your treatment will be to limit the cancer and its symptoms, and help you live longer.

Finding out the cancer cannot be cured can be very hard news to take in.

You will be referred to a special team of doctors and nurses called the palliative care team or symptom control team.

They will work with you to help manage your symptoms and make you feel more comfortable.

The clinical nurse specialist or palliative care team can also help you and your loved ones get any support you need.

Where to get help and support

You may want to start by talking to your clinical nurse specialist, or another member of your specialist team. They will be able to give you information on local support services that you may find helpful.

The cancer charities Macmillan Cancer Support and Cancer Research UK are also good sources of support and information about stomach cancer.



The information on this page has been adapted by NHS Wales from original content supplied by NHS UK NHS website nhs.uk
Last Updated: 22/11/2021 11:40:55