Could I Have Stomach Cancer? Understanding the Symptoms, Causes, Prevention and Treatment

The American Cancer Society has estimated that there will be 25,560 new stomach (or gastric) cancer cases diagnosed—and 11,180 deaths—in the U.S. in 2021. These numbers are entirely too high, so we’d like to educate you on what you can do to lower your risk of and be proactive about finding this cancer as early as possible.

Screening for Stomach Cancer

Routine screening for stomach cancer is not done in the U.S., and most people are not diagnosed until they begin to feel the symptoms. If not detected early, cancer may spread through the blood, the lymph system and tissue. Therefore, it’s important to get screening if you are at a higher risk for stomach cancer.

Causes and Risk Factors for Stomach Cancer

The primary cause of stomach cancer is a genetic mutation of cells in the inner lining of the stomach walls, which leads to the formation of a tumor. Certain factors increase your risk of developing stomach cancer, including:

  • Chronic gastritis
  • Obesity
  • Family history of stomach cancer
  • Gastric polyps
  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacterial infection
  • A high-sodium diet
  • Smoking
  • An unbalanced diet (particularly one that does not include fruits and vegetables)

Stomach Cancer Prevention

The risk factors above provide a starting point for steps you can take to help prevent the disease, such as:

  • Maintain a healthy weight.
  • Avoid eating heavily salted foods.
  • Limit or stop using tobacco products.
  • Eat a balanced diet that includes plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables.

Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

If you think you have felt any of the symptoms below, reach out to your physician to schedule an appointment. These signs and symptoms are also related to many other conditions, some of which are very common and benign. But it’s best to be proactive about your health and have anything that seems out of the norm for your body for too long checked out.

  • Abdominal pain or discomfort (particularly under the navel)
  • Abdominal swelling or bloating
  • Anemia
  • Blood in the stool
  • Feeling full after eating a little
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Jaundice
  • Poor appetite
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Vomiting (possibly with blood)

Stomach Cancer Tests and Diagnosis

Testing for stomach cancer will typically begin with a physical exam and blood chemistry studies. Symptoms, signs of the disease and abnormally high or low amounts of certain substances in the blood will likely lead to further tests.

Diagnosing stomach cancer may involve several different tests to discover cancer cells and/or tumors. Often, a CT scan, barium swallow or MRI can help identify the presence of stomach cancer; however, the tumor must be large enough to be detected. An upper endoscopy may also be performed if the mass is suspected but not big enough to be seen on radiologic tests.

Once stomach cancer has been diagnosed, more tests will be required to determine the cancer stage and whether the cancer cells have spread beyond the stomach. These tests include:

  • Endoscopic ultrasound
  • CT scan
  • Laparoscopy
  • PET scan
  • MRI

Stomach Cancer Treatment

There are different types of stomach cancer treatments available to you. The recommended treatment will depend on the stage of cancer. Sometimes, treatments may be combined. There are several treatments for stomach cancer, including:

  • Chemotherapy
  • Endoscopic mucosal resection
  • Immunotherapy
  • Radiation therapy
  • Surgery (subtotal gastrectomy, total gastrectomy)
  • Targeted therapy

Contact Tampa Bay Radiation Oncology today for screening and treatment options if you are at high risk for stomach cancer. More than a thousand men and women diagnosed with cancer each year turn to our trusted team of cancer specialists. We encourage you to call us, ask us a question, or consult with us to get a second opinion so you, too, can experience the difference.