Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. 

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Am Fam Physician. 2004;69(5):1145-1146

What is stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer, which is also called gastric cancer, is the growth of cells that are not normal in the lining and wall of the stomach. The stomach is the organ where food is digested.

Who might get stomach cancer?

You may have more risk for getting stomach cancer if you are old, if you are a man, if you smoke cigarettes, if you drink a lot of alcohol, or if you eat a lot of pickled or salty foods. Certain groups of people such as blacks, Native Americans, and Hispanics also may have an increased risk. Your chance of getting stomach cancer is higher if you have had an infection in your stomach caused by the bacteria Helicobacter pylori.

Can I prevent stomach cancer?

There is no way to prevent stomach cancer. However, you can help reduce your risk of getting stomach cancer by not drinking too much alcohol, by not smoking, and by eating a diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables, and vitamin C. Vitamin C is found in foods such as oranges and grapefruits.

How can my doctor tell if I have stomach cancer?

You won't know you have stomach cancer for sure until after your doctor examines your stomach. Sometimes cancer can be in the stomach for a long time and grow very large before it causes symptoms. In the early stages of stomach cancer, you may have these symptoms:

  • Indigestion, stomach discomfort, or heartburn

  • A bloated feeling after eating

  • Nausea or loss of appetite

When the cancer is larger, you may have these symptoms:

  • Blood in your stool

  • Vomiting

  • Weight loss

  • Stomach pain

If you have any of these signs or symptoms, talk with your doctor.

How do doctors look for stomach cancer?

If you have signs, symptoms, or risk factors, your doctor may want you to get an x-ray test of your stomach. For this test, you will drink a liquid containing barium, which makes the stomach easier to see on the x-ray.

Your doctor also may look inside your stomach using a thin, lighted scope. For this test, the scope is inserted through your mouth and passed down to your stomach. Your doctor may give you medicine before the test so that you feel no pain.

If your doctor sees anything that is not normal during this test, he or she may cut out a small piece of the stomach so it can be looked at under a microscope to see if there are any cancer cells. This is called a biopsy.

How is stomach cancer treated?

The choice of treatment depends on whether the cancer is just in the stomach or if it has spread to other places in your body. It also depends on your health. The earlier stomach cancer is detected, the better the chances are that it can be cured.

Once cancer of the stomach is found, more tests will be done to find out if cancer cells have spread to other parts of the body. This step is called staging. You might get a kind of x-ray called a CAT scan to see if your cancer has spread. An ultrasound test also can be done. Your doctor needs to know the stage of the cancer to plan your treatment, which could include surgery, chemotherapy, or radiation, or all three.

Where can I learn more about stomach cancer?

  • American Cancer Society, Inc.

  • 1-800-ACS-2345 (1-800-227-2345)


  • AMC Cancer Research Center and Foundation

  • 1-800-321-1557


  • Cancer Information Service

  • 1-800-4-CANCER (1-800-422-6237)


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