What is Stomach Cancer?
Cancer is the abnormal growth of cells that can occur anywhere in the body. Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is the formation of these cancer cells in the stomach. This type of cancer typically affects those in their 60s or older and tends to grow over many months to a few years.
Types of Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer can occur in several parts of the stomach, resulting in different symptoms and outcomes. While the most common type of stomach cancer begins forming in the glandular tissue lining the inner stomach, there are several types of stomach cancer arising from different stomach tissues.
- Adenocarcinoma – More than 90% of stomach cancers, these tumors develop in the glands in the lining of the inner stomach wall
- Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) – An uncommon type of cancer. GISTs arise from the pacemaker cells in the stomach muscle layer
- Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) – These cancerous cells arise from cells with nerve and endocrine (or hormone-producing) features, and tend to grow slowly
Stages of Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer is typically diagnosed and tracked in stages, helping doctors understand if and how far cancer has spread and which treatment option might be most effective.
- Stage 0 – Known as "carcinoma in situ," at this stage cancer cells are found in the inner stomach lining and have not spread or grown into other layers
- Stage 1 – Cancer has spread beyond the stomach's inner lining into the submucosa or muscle layer of the stomach or to one or two lymph nodes
- Stage 2 – Cancer has grown beyond the inner lining of the stomach lining and/or to multiple lymph nodes
- Stage 3 – Cancer has progressed into or beyond the muscle layer of the stomach and to lymph nodes
- Stage 4 – At this stage, cancer has spread to distant sites
Signs & Symptoms of Stomach Cancer
Stomach cancer symptoms include:
- Dysphagia - Refers to difficulty swallowing. This can be painful, or it can simply require extra effort to swallow food or liquids.
- Weight loss - Unplanned or unexpected weight loss could be the symptom of several different stomach conditions, including cancer. Mention weight loss to your doctor if it is accompanied by a decreased appetite or experienced along with other stomach cancer symptoms here.
- Dyspepsia - Refers to indigestion, which is pain or discomfort in the stomach after eating. This is typically felt in the upper abdomen and often includes a burning sensation, nausea, or bloating.
- Feeling full after eating small amounts - This can be an early sign of stomach cancer and should be reported to your doctor if you experience it repeatedly
- Tiredness – Tiredness or fatigue lasting more than a few days or weeks is a sign of concern. This extreme tiredness could result from anemia, a loss of red blood cells due to blood loss in the stool.
- General sick feeling - Be on the lookout for repeated nausea or vomiting after eating, an increase in constipation or diarrhea, or persistent stomach pain or heartburn
Tell your doctor if you are experiencing these more serious stomach cancer symptoms:
- Blood in your stool
- Yellowish eyes or skin
- Swelling in your stomach
What Causes Stomach Cancer?
The following issues are typical causes of stomach cancer:
- Inflammation - Also known as gastritis, inflammation in the stomach over years or decades can increase the risk of stomach cancer
- Infection - Chronic infection with Helicobacter pylori infection, often beginning in childhood, is the leading cause of stomach cancer
Risk Factors for Stomach Cancer
Some risk factors for stomach cancer are genetic or environmental, while others result from behavioral or lifestyle choices.
- Helicobacter pylori - Responsible for 40% of stomach cancers. This is a prevalent type of infection (it may affect over half of the world's population), and it can lead to other stomach issues such as ulcers.
- Age and gender - Stomach cancer is more common in men than in women, and the risk increases beyond age 60
- Smoking tobacco – Smoking nearly doubles the risk of stomach cancer, especially in the entrance to the stomach near the esophagus
- Being overweight or obese - Those who are overweight are at nearly twice the risk of stomach cancer, according to some studies
- Alcohol consumption - Particularly in those who consume three or more drinks a day
- Chemical exposure - Industrial workers tend to be at higher risk of stomach cancer, especially those exposed to crystalline silica, leaded gasoline, grain dust, lead dust, zinc dust, hydraulic fluids, and glycol ethers
NewYork-Presbyterian offers stomach cancer screening with endoscopy to people at increased risk.
How to Prevent Stomach Cancer
There is no way to guarantee the prevention of stomach cancer, but you can take the following precautions to reduce the likelihood of stomach cancer developing:
- Eat a healthy diet high in fresh fruits and raw vegetables
- Exercise regularly
- Avoid smoking tobacco or drinking too much alcohol
- Check for the symptoms above
Trust NewYork-Presbyterian for Stomach Cancer Care
Schedule an appointment with NewYork-Presbyterian today. Our medical professionals can assess your symptoms, discuss behavioral and environmental risks you may face, and conduct tests to provide you with the right diagnosis.