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Clinical Specialties - Cancer

Stomach (Gastric) Cancer

Gastrointestinal (GI) Cancer MDTStomach or gastric cancer affects about 2100 people in Australia each year, according to the Cancer Council of Australia. Men are two times more likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer than women and it is more common in people over 60, but can occur at any age.

Generally stomach cancer starts in the lining of the stomach. It grows slowly over several years, causing few if any symptoms.

The stomach cancer experts at Sydney Adventist Hospital use several methods to confirm your diagnosis and determine the stage of your disease. They have experience with early-stage as well as complex cancer; have access to advanced diagnostic tools and a wide range of treatments, including clinical trials. At the same time, our supportive clinicians help you manage side effects to support your quality of life. Explore this section to learn more about gastric cancer, its side effects and your treatment options.

About Stomach (Gastric) cancer

Stomach cancer (also called gastric cancer) can develop in any part of the stomach, and may spread throughout the stomach and to other organs. It may grow along the stomach wall into the oesophagus or small intestine.

The most common form of stomach cancer occurs in the innermost layer of the stomach called the mucosa, which has glands that produce fluids that break down food during digestion. This type of cancer is called “gastric adenocarcinoma”. Other less common types of cancer include squamous cell carcinomas, lymphomas, carcinoid tumours and gastrointestinal stromal tumours.

Stomach cancer is a slow-growing cancer that begins in the stomach lining and, if not detected early, can spread to nearby lymph nodes and organs, such as the liver, pancreas and colon. It may spread to distant organs, such as the lungs, the lymph nodes above the collarbone and to a woman’s ovaries.

What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?

Most patients with early stage stomach cancers have no symptoms of the disease. In other cases, a person with stomach cancer may mistake their symptoms for a common stomach virus.

When the signs and symptoms of stomach cancer are not apparent, the disease may reach advanced stages before a diagnosis is made. For this reason, it is important for anyone considered to be at high risk to talk to their doctors about symptoms that may be signs of stomach cancer.

Stomach cancer symptoms may include:

  • Unexplained weight loss or lack of appetite is a common sign of cancer
  • Stomach pain or abdominal discomfort above the navel could be a symptom of stomach cancer. Also, swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen may also be caused by stomach cancer
  • Feeling full after eating small meals is a symptom mentioned by many patients with stomach cancer
  • Heartburn or indigestion symptoms similar to an ulcer may be signs of stomach cancer
  • Nausea & vomiting, including sometimes vomit with blood in it

If you experience any of these symptoms or have concerns, please contact your general practitioner (GP).

How is stomach cancer diagnosed?

The type of diagnosis or tests will vary depending on symptoms but nearly all patients will have an endoscopy. Your doctor may also use X-rays, computed tomography (CT) or Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) to examine the stomach and surrounding organs in more detail.

An endoscopy allows the doctor to examine the upper digestive tract and inside of the stomach by using a thin flexible tube with a camera. During the procedure, the doctor may also take a small sample of tissue called a biopsy. The tissue sample will then be examined under a microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. A staging laparoscopy is often indicated to select patients who may benefit from surgery.

Once a diagnosis has been made, your integrated team of stomach cancer experts will use these imaging and laboratory tests to track the size of the tumours, monitor your response to treatment, and modify your plan when needed.

What are my treatment options for stomach cancer?

Surgery is the most common treatment for stomach cancer and thanks to improvements in identifying the stage of the disease and advances in technology, it has become more treatable.

Surgery (gastrectomy) is the favoured treatment approach, particularly when the cancer is detected early. In many cases of planned surgery, chemotherapy is administered before and after surgery to improve cancer outcomes. Minimally invasive surgical techniques tend to be the preferred surgical method as they are considered to reduce complications, pain and recovery times and lower the possibility of the cancer returning compared to open surgeries.

If the cancer is more advanced, then our experts may decide on other treatments in addition to surgery such as chemotherapy, radiation therapy or a combination of these.

The best treatment plan for you will be determined by our MDT who will assist you through your cancer experience. Make sure you ask them any questions you have, including what support services are available to you. Accessing these support services can help make dealing with your experience a little easier.

Resources and useful stomach cancer links
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Sydney Adventist Hospital Clinical Specialties and Services