Stomach cancer symptoms, diagnosis, treatment and prognosis
Stomach cancer symptoms
Early symptoms of stomach cancer tend to be vague and not very specific, so may be mistaken for other conditions with similar symptoms.
This can delay a person seeking medical advice and getting a diagnosis. The earlier a cancer is detected, the better the chance is that treatment will be successful.
Stomach cancer symptoms include:
- Persistent indigestion
- Stomach ache
- Trapped wind and frequent burping
- Feeling full quickly when eating
- Feeling bloated after meals
- Difficulty swallowing
- Feeling sick or being sick
- Blood in vomit
With advanced stomach cancer, additional symptoms may include:
- Blood in poo, black poo (stools)
- Loss of appetite
- Unexpected weight loss
- Fluid build-up in the stomach
Stomach cancer alarm symptoms
Because stomach cancer symptoms can be so vague, the Department of Health has issued a list of what it calls alarm symptoms for people at an increased risk of stomach cancer.
See your GP as soon as possible if you have any of these alarm symptoms:
- Difficulty swallowing
- Indigestion in combination with one or more of weight loss, being sick or anaemia.
- Being over 55 with persistent indigestion
- Indigestion and having a family history of stomach cancer, previous surgery for stomach ulcers, Barrett’s oesophagus, pernicious anaemia, dysplasia or gastritis.
- Jaundice, with yellowing of the eyes and skin
- A swollen mass in the upper abdomen
Stomach cancer diagnosis
If a person's symptoms lead a GP to suspect stomach cancer, a referral will be made to a hospital cancer specialist for tests. This is normally arranged within a couple of weeks.
Tests may include:
- Blood tests
- Chest X-ray
- Stool (poo) sample to check for blood
Imaging tests to look inside the body to look for signs of stomach cancer include:
- Endoscopy or endoscopic ultrasound using probes on the end of tubes passed down through the throat
- Barium meal X-ray, or barium swallow, using special liquid to make the stomach show up better on an X-ray
- Laparoscopy with a camera on the end of a tube passed through a cut in the abdomen
- CT or PET scan
- If an abnormal area is found, the doctor will remove some tissue to be examined under a microscope, called a biopsy, to confirm the presence of cancer cells.
Staging and grading stomach cancer
If stomach cancer is diagnosed, the severity of the cancer will be assessed with a process called staging. This ranges from stage 1A where the cancer has not spread beyond the inner lining of the stomach, to stage 4, where it has spread to other parts of the body.
Most stomach cancers are confirmed when they have already spread beyond the stomach. This usually means a complete cure is not possible.
Stomach cancers are also graded. The grades are:
- Low-grade, spreading slowly
- Medium-grade, spreading slightly faster
- High-grade, aggressive and spreading quickly