Gastric cancer, also known as stomach cancer, is a type of cancer characterised by the growth of cancer cells in the lining of your stomach; a J-shaped organ in the digestive system, located in the upper abdomen, where digestion commences before food passes to the intestines.
When the food you consume reaches your stomach, the glands in the mucosa, which is the inner layer of your stomach, releases gastric juice to help the muscles in your stomach break down food. The food turns into a thick fluid to help the small intestine easily absorb nutrients into your bloodstream.
When you have gastric cancer, abnormal cell growth, which usually begins in the mucosa, disrupts the digestion process and you experience pain and discomfort in your stomach. A relatively common type of cancer in Australia, according to the Cancer Council, gastric cancer affects approximately 2000 people each year.
After analysing your symptoms and medical history, your doctor may refer you for further testing to reach a diagnosis for gastric cancer. These tests include:
Irregularities and inconsistencies in your blood work could indicate gastric cancer. Your doctor may measure the level of certain substances in your blood including haemoglobulin and iron studies that may specify abnormalities in your stomach.
A sample of your stool will be used to detect the presence of any abnormalities such as bacteria (H.Pylori) or blood.
Also known as gastroscopy, this will be the main test used to confirm a diagnosis. A thin, flexible tube with a light and camera attached to the end will be passed down your throat, oesophagus, and into your stomach to look at the digestive tract for abnormal growth cells.
If any suspicious growth is detected, a small piece of tissue from the stomach lining may be removed (biopsy) to examine under a microscope.
Images of the stomach and nearby organs may be taken using x-ray, CT scan or MRI to detect the presence of cancer and also how far it has spread. These tests may help determine the stage of your cancer.
Through the results gathered from all diagnostic tests and considering the survival statistics for gastric cancer, your doctor may estimate your prognosis, the expected outcome of your cancer.
Your doctor may then discuss your prognosis and evaluate possible treatment options. In this process, it’s important to remember that no one can predict the exact course of your condition.
Treatment for gastric cancer may largely depend on the stage of the disease and also on your age, medical history, nutritional needs, general health, and your preferences.
Preparing for treatment
Your doctor may ask you to improve your diet and nutrition to improve your strength and lessen side effects of certain treatment options. Also, you may be asked to stop smoking if you’re a smoker, as it may weaken the effectiveness of certain treatments and exacerbate the discomfort brought on by certain side effects.
Surgery is a common treatment in all stages of gastric cancer and aims to remove all cancerous tissue while keeping as much normal tissue as possible. The type of surgery depends on where the cancer is located and how far it has spread.
- Endoscopic resection: Very early-stage gastric cancer that’s limited to the stomach lining may be removed with an endoscope.
- Gastrectomy: This procedure removes part (subtotal gastrectomy) or all (total gastrectomy) of the stomach, leaving as much healthy tissue as possible. The goal is to completely cut out the parts where cancer has spread.
- Lymphadenectomy: If cancer has spread to the nearby lymph nodes, your doctor may remove them from around your stomach to reduce the risk of leaving any cancerous tissue behind.
Request more information on the diagnosis and treatment of gastric cancer
If you are diagnosed with gastric cancer, discuss your prognosis and possible treatment options with your doctor.