What is stomach cancer?, Stomach cancer signs and symptoms, Causes of stomach cancer


What is stomach cancer?, Stomach cancer signs and symptoms, Causes of stomach cancer

What is stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer develops when cells in any part of the stomach grow and divide abnormally. Tumours can begin anywhere in the stomach but most begin in the glandular tissue on the stomach's inner surface. This type of cancer is an adenocarcinoma of the stomach (gastric cancer).

Rare types of stomach cancer include small cell carcinomas, lymphomas, neuroendocrine tumours and gastrointestinal stromal tumours. 

Stomach cancer is a relatively common cancer in Australia, however the number of people diagnosed has been falling. 

It is estimated that more than 2,500 people were diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2023. The average age at diagnosis is 70 years old.


Stomach cancer signs and symptoms

  • a painful or burning sensation in the abdomen

  • heartburn or indigestion (dyspepsia)

  • a sense of fullness, even after a small meal

  • nausea and/or vomiting

  • loss of appetite and/or weight loss

  • swelling of the abdomen

  • unexplained tiredness or weakness

  • blood in vomit

  • black-coloured faeces.


Causes of stomach cancer

Some factors that can increase your risk of stomach cancer include:

  • smoking tobacco

  • being aged over 60

  • infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori

  • a diet high in smoked, pickled and salted foods and low in fresh fruit and vegetables

  • alcohol consumption

  • being overweight or obese

  • pernicious anaemia (low red blood cells)

  • chronic gastritis (inflammation of the stomach)

  • a family history of stomach cancer

  • partial gastrectomy for ulcer disease (after about 20 years)

  • inheriting a genetic change that causes the bowel disorders familial adenomatous polyposis or hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer.


Diagnosis of stomach cancer

If your doctor thinks you may have stomach cancer, you will be referred for further tests. The main test is an endoscopy (also known as a gastroscopy). The doctor will use a thin, flexible tube with a camera (endoscope), which passes into the mouth, down the throat and oesophagus into the stomach in order to look at the digestive tract. 

If any suspicious-looking areas are detected, a small amount of tissue from the stomach lining may be removed (biopsy) and examined under a microscope. Less commonly used is an endoscopic ultrasound where the endoscope has an ultrasound probe at the end. 

After a diagnosis of stomach cancer 

After being diagnosed with a stomach cancer, you may feel shocked, upset, anxious or confused. These are normal responses. A diagnosis of a stomach or oesophageal cancer affects each person differently. For most it will be a difficult time, however some people manage to continue with their normal daily activities. 

You may find it helpful to talk about your treatment options with your doctors, family and friends. Ask questions and seek as much information as you feel you need. It is up to you as to how involved you want to be in making decisions about your treatment. 

Learn more about best stomach cancer care:


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