What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer can present in many different ways depending on which part of the stomach is involved. Indigestion (pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen related to eating or drinking), and loss of appetite are common and associated with weight loss. If the cancer is at the top of the stomach near the esophagus, difficulty swallowing may be a symptom.

Vomiting is a typical symptom if the cancer is in the bottom of the stomach. Cancers can sometimes bleed, leading to symptoms of anemia, such as tiredness and shortness of breath. Many of the symptoms of stomach cancer are similar to those of a benign ulcer. It is very important that any new occurrences of the symptoms listed above are reported to your doctor if you are over 40.

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What tests confirm a diagnosis of stomach cancer?

The earlier a diagnosis can be made, the more likely it can be cured. The longer a cancer is present in the stomach, the more likely it is that it will spread to other parts of the body such as lymph glands and the liver.

Occasionally, a lump in the abdomen may lead to a diagnosis of stomach cancer, but other tests are always needed. An endoscopy (video examination of the stomach) is a simple test carried out under local anesthesia.  A small sample of tissue is taken for examination under a microscope; the tissue will be tested for the presence of Helicobacter pylori, as well. A CT scan—an x-ray that takes 3D images of the chest, abdomen, and pelvic areas is also used to provide information about the stomach itself, and other areas to which the cancer may have spread.

What happens once cancer is diagnosed?

If the tests show that you have stomach cancer, you will be referred to a cancer specialist, possibly a surgeon, for further assessment. It is likely that you will have a staging laparoscopy. Under a general anesthesia, a small telescope is passed through the belly button into the abdomen to examine the stomach and other areas closely. The results of your tests will then be discussed by a group of cancer experts to help decide the best form of treatment.