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Gastric cancer
(also known as stomach cancer)


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Most stomach cancers (over 95%) begin in the inner lining of the stomach and are known asadenocarcinoma. The other 5% of stomach cancers are rare, including lymphoma, sarcoma, squamous cell carcinoma and neuroendocrine tumours of the stomach. Most are diagnosed after the cancer has advanced; meaning it has spread from the stomach where it started to another part of the body but it might also mean that it has returned since you were first treated.

It is currently not possible to completely cure advanced stomach cancer but treatment is available to control the symptoms. Treatment might also shrink the tumour and slow its growth, even if it cannot get rid of it.

Cancer cells develop as a result of damage to the DNA. This damage might be inherited but more often occurs because of exposure to something in the environment, such as chemicals (e.g. cigarette smoke)

Usually the body can repair this damage, but in cancer cells the DNA is not repaired and the abnormal cells do not grow, divide or die in an orderly way. They live longer than normal cells and keep on forming new abnormal cells. These abnormal cells tend to cluster together to form a lump (tumour).

Cancer cells often travel to other parts of the body where they begin to grow, replacing normal cells. This process is known as 'metastasis'. Cancer that spreads is always characterised by the site of the original (primary) site. So if stomach cancer spreads to the liver, it is still called stomach cancer. Some risk factors for stomach cancer

Helicobacter pylori infection seems to be a major cause of stomach cancer especially in cancers in the lower part of the stomach. However not all people who carry this infection develop cancer.
Tobacco and alcohol increase the risk of stomach cancer, particularly in the upper part of the stomach near to the oesophagus; the rate of stomach cancer is nearly doubled in smokers.
Obesity (being very overweight) has emerged as a possible cause of gastric cancers.


Surgery and radiotherapy remove or destroy cancer in or near the stomach. Either therapy might be used to control the disease in the immediate area of the tumour, but if your doctor wants to treat cancer at sites throughout your body, chemotherapy might be used.

Chemotherapy can be used alone or with radiotherapy or surgery. Chemotherapy generally uses powerful drugs that are poisonous to cancer cells, but increasingly less harmful to healthy tissue. These drugs usually enter the blood stream and destroy or control cancer throughout the body. Chemotherapy treatments can be given directly into the bloodstream, known as an intravenous infusion, or can be taken in a pill formulation.

New advances in medicine for stomach cancer mean that you should be tested for the type of cancer you have before you start treatment to make sure that you are getting the most effective medicine for your cancer.

signs and symptoms

You should consult your GP if you experience unusual symptoms such as:

  • severe or persistent indigestion,
  • nausea or vomiting.
Other warning symptoms include problems with swallowing or sense of feeling full as soon or soon after eating. If you experience unexpected weight loss or abnormal loss of appetite or you should also seek medical advice.
Any patient who experience vomiting with blood or bleeding from the rectum or black faeces due to internal bleeding should also seek medical attention immediately.

Healthy Tips

Although there are many causes of stomach cancer, some lifestyle changes may lessen the risk of developing this type of cancer:

Dietary changes: increased intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, particularly those rich in vitamin C; reduced intake of salt, salted fish, pickled vegetables, and smoked meats

Reducing (number of cigarettes and duration of smoking) or stopping smoking has been associated with a reduced risk of stomach cancer.

Some medical conditions are associated with an increased risk of stomach cancer e.g. gastritis and gastric ulcers associated with Helicobacter Pylori infection.

The production costs associated with this piece have been sponsored by Roche for the advancement and support of medical, scientific and patient initiatives. RXUKCOMM00368 December 2010