How are cancers of the stomach treated?

If it is determined that the cancer has not spread anywhere else, most stomach cancers will be removed by surgery. Either a part of the stomach or the whole stomach is removed, along with nearby lymph glands. The stomach or esophagus is then joined to the bowel (anastomosis). Once the cancer has been removed, it is examined closely under the microscope to identify exactly what stage it is.

If the cancer is caught early and has not spread through the stomach wall, then no further treatment may be necessary. If the cancer has spread through the wall, or involved lymph glands, you may be offered further treatment such as chemotherapy, radiotherapy, or a combination of both. Sometimes chemotherapy is given before surgery.

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What happens after surgery?

You will stay in a hospital for about 10 days after your operation. It will take about 6 to 8 weeks to recover fully. You will see a dietician who can advise you on the best foods to eat. The main advice will be to eat a balanced diet, often and in small portions. All the test results will be discussed to decide if any further treatment is necessary.

You will be told the results when you come back to see your surgeon about a month after surgery. You should be seen regularly over the months and years following your treatment, and will be offered regular blood tests. Sometimes, further scans and endoscopies are needed to see if the cancer has come back. If the problem does recur, it can be treated again, usually with chemotherapy or radiotherapy.

What is advanced stomach cancer?

If the cancer has already spread beyond the stomach to other structures when it is diagnosed, it is sometimes not amenable to surgery. In this case it is treated by chemotherapy, and sometimes radiation therapy. There are some new minimal-access (endoscopic) ways of dealing with problems such as blockages, by using fine-mesh tubes called stents. Cancer can sometimes become advanced even after treatment, and careful follow-up is usually necessary.

Can stomach cancer be prevented?

It’s hard to determine if stomach cancer can be prevented completely, but a healthy diet containing fruit, vegetables, and limited animal fat and protein may help to prevent stomach cancer. The widespread use of frozen rather than pickled or highly salted preserved foods may have influenced the reduction in the incidence of the problem over the last 50 years.

In some areas of the world, such as Japan, the incidence of stomach cancer is so high that endoscopic screening is carried out on everyone. In the U.S., the incidence of the problem is a lot lower, so screening is not necessary.

Further Information

National Cancer Institute
www.cancer.govAmerican Gastroenterological Association

International Foundation for Functional Gastrointestinal Disorders

Last reviewed: May 2011