Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, begins in the lining of the inner mucosal layer of the stomach and spreads through the stomach wall, forming a tumor or mass as it grows. This is called an adenocarcinoma. Other less common types of stomach cancer are lymphomas, gastrointestinal stromal tumors and carcinoid tumors. The American Cancer Society estimates that 25,000 cases of stomach cancer are diagnosed annually in the United States. Stomach cancer is often diagnosed in its later stages because there are typically no symptoms early in the disease. This makes it more difficult to cure. Learn more about cancer of the stomach.

In the past two decades, as our knowledge of stomach cancer has increased, the prognosis for this disease has also dramatically improved. This is due to improved surgery and post-operative care, as well as new therapies. At Brigham and Women’s Hospital, our experienced surgeons specialize in stomach cancer and are the surgical team for the Center for Esophageal and Gastric Cancer at Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women’s Cancer Center (DF/BWCC), a unique center uniting the finest gastrointestinal cancer experts.

Our board certified surgeons use the latest minimally invasive surgery techniques to treat stomach cancer, including endoscopic resection and subtotal or partial gastrectomy and procedures such as gastrojejunostomy and endoluminal and stent placement.

Read these frequently asked questions about cancer of the stomach.

Stomach Cancer Topics

Risk Factors for Stomach Cancer

Factors that contribute to an increased risk for cancer of the stomach include:

  • Age 50 and older
  • Male
  • Smoking history
  • Having a mother, father, sister or brother who has had stomach cancer
  • Eating a diet high in salted, smoked foods and low in fruits and vegetables
  • Eating foods that have not been prepared or stored properly
  • These medical conditions:
    • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection of the stomach
    • Atrophic gastritis (chronic inflammation of the stomach)
    • Pernicious anemia
    • Intestinal metaplasia (a condition in which the normal stomach lining is replaced with the cells that line the intestines)
    • Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or gastric polyps
Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer is difficult to detect early as it does not cause symptoms right away. Symptoms associated with cancer of the stomach include:

  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Loss of appetite
  • Feeling full early
  • Bloating in the abdomen
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Weight loss
  • Stomach pain
  • Blood in the stool
Diagnosis of Stomach Cancer

If you are having symptoms of stomach cancer, your surgeon will ask about your health history, your family’s history of cancer and risk factors. Diagnostic tests may include:

  • Physical exam and history
  • Blood chemistry studies
  • Complete blood count (CBC)
  • Fecal occult blood test
  • Barium swallow
  • Upper Endoscopy (esophagogastroduodenoscopy or EGD)
  • Biopsy
  • CT scan (CAT scan)

Learn more about the above diagnostic tests for stomach cancer.

Stages of Stomach Cancer

With the results of diagnostic tests, your doctor will assign your cancer a stage, depending upon the size and spread of the cancer.

Learn more about stages of stomach cancer.

Treatment for Stomach Cancer

Surgical Treatment 

Brigham and Women’s Hospital surgeons use the most advanced technology available, performing leading-edge, minimally-invasive surgeries when appropriate. Types of surgery include:

  • Subtotal gastrectomy removes part of the stomach that contains cancer, nearby lymph nodes, and parts of other tissues and organs near the tumor.
  • Total gastrectomy removes the entire stomach, nearby lymph nodes, and parts of the esophagus, small intestine and other tissues near the tumor.

If the cancer cannot be completely removed by standard surgery, these surgical procedures may be recommended:

  • Gastrojejunostomy uses a small tube to connect the stomach to part of the small intestine. This tube (called a GJ tube) allows patients to have food, liquids and medications administered through the end of the tube outside of the abdomen.
  • Endoluminal stent placement inserts a stent (a thin wire tube) to keep a passage open.

Learn more about surgery for stomach cancer.

Non-Surgical Treatment

Learn the questions to ask about stomach cancer treatment.

What You Should Expect

You will receive a thorough diagnostic examination to evaluate if you have stomach cancer and determine what course of treatment is needed. Careful monitoring and the involvement of an experienced surgeon are important to the successful outcome for patients with stomach cancer.

If you are having surgery or a procedure, you will likely be scheduled for a visit to the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation for pre-operative information and tests.

The day of surgery, you will be cared for in the operating room by surgeons, anesthesiologists and nurses who specialize in surgery for patients with stomach cancer. After surgery, you will recover in the post-surgical care unit where you will receive comprehensive care by an experienced surgical and nursing staff.

Learn more about your hospital stay and returning home.

Learn how to ease the side-effects of stomach cancer treatment

Multidisciplinary Care
The Center for Esophageal and Gastric Cancer brings together specialists from Dana-Farber/Brigham and Women's Cancer Center who are improving the way stomach cancers are diagnosed and treated. Our team of surgeons, medical and radiation oncologists, gastroenterologists, anesthesiologists and pathologists have decades of experience caring for patients with stomach cancer. In addition, patients have full access to BWH’s world-renowned academic medical community with its diverse specialists and state-of-the-art facilities.
Cancer Surgery Appointments and Locations

Contact one of our cancer surgeons in the list at the top of the page to make an appointment.

Cancer Surgery Locations

Resources

Learn more about stomach cancer in our health library.

Visit the Kessler Health Education Library in the Bretholtz Center for Patients and Families to access computers and knowledgeable staff.

Visit the Weiner Center for Preoperative Evaluation.

Access a complete directory of patient and family services.

Care for the Caregiver offers tips for family and friends.

LEARN MORE ABOUT BRIGHAM AND WOMEN’S HOSPITAL


For over a century, a leader in patient care, medical education and research, with expertise in virtually every specialty of medicine and surgery.

About BWH