About Stomach Cancer

About Stomach Cancer

At Penn Medicine, patients with stomach cancer receive their care from a multidisciplinary team of nationally recognized experts in the diagnosis, treatment and research of gastrointestinal cancer.

Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, is cancer that forms in tissues that line the stomach. The stomach is a hollow organ in the upper abdomen, just under the ribs. Its primary function is to receive food from the esophagus, digest it and turn it to liquid/semi-liquid and send it through the lower digestive tract.

The stomach has five layers:

  • Inner layer: lining of the stomach
  • Submucosa: support tissue for inner layer
  • Muscle layer: muscles of the stomach
  • Subserosa: support tissue for the outer layer
  • Outer layer: outer lining, also called serosa

The most common type of stomach cancer is called adenocarcinoma. Adenocarcinoma is cancer that starts in cells that have gland-like properties within the tissues that line the inside of the stomach.

Other types of stomach cancer include:

  • Lymphoma
  • Leiomyosarcoma
  • Stromal Tumor (GIST)

These types of stomach cancer are relatively uncommon.

Stomach cancer is relatively uncommon in the United States, and its rate of incidence has declined over in the past decades. Experts believe this decline may be due, in part, to the reduced intake of salted, cured and smoked foods.

Penn Medicine’s multidisciplinary approach to cancer diagnosis and treatment provides better outcomes and gives patients access to the most advanced treatment, surgical techniques and clinical trials.

Because navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment options can be difficult, patients who wish to connect with a cancer specialist at Penn Medicine can speak with a cancer nurse, who can help them make an appointment with the right physician.

To connect with a cancer nurse at Penn Medicine, patients should call 800-789-PENN.


Stomach Cancer Risk and Prevention

Some risk factors for cancer, like age and family history, cannot be prevented. Patients who feel they are at risk may benefit from consulting with a risk assessment specialist within one of Penn Medicine’s programs at the Abramson Cancer Center or the Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital at Pennsylvania Hospital.

Stomach Cancer Risk Factors

Risk factors increase the chance of developing stomach cancer. However, most people with risk factors for stomach cancer never develop the disease. These are some risk factors for stomach cancer:

  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection. H. pylori is a bacterial infection that can infect the lining of the stomach and chronic infection with H. pylori may increase the risk for stomach cancer.The World Health Organization classifies H. pylori as a class I carcinogen. If found by endoscopic biopsy it should be treated medically.
  • Smoking. Smoking, particularly heavy smoking, has been linked to an increased risk of developing stomach cancer. 
  • Family history. People who have close relatives with a history of stomach cancer, such as Lynch syndrome, Ménétrier disease, familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or diffuse hereditary gastric cancer, may be at an increased risk themselves.
  • Pernicious anemia. Pernicious anemia is an autoimmune disease in which the stomach does not produce enough stomach acid.
  • Obesity. Those who are obese or overweight may be at an increased risk for cancer in the upper part of the stomach.
  • Diet. Studies show people who eat a diet high in salted, smoked or pickled foods and low in vitamins and minerals have an increased risk for stomach cancer.
  • Sex. Stomach cancer occurs more often in males than females.
  • Race. African-American men are more than twice as likely as caucasian men to die from stomach cancer.

Stomach Cancer Prevention

Most risk factors for stomach cancer such as family history cannot be prevented. However, people can do the following to help decrease their cancer risk.

Stomach Cancer Risk Assessment

Penn Medicine offers programs for patients who want to determine their risk of developing gastrointestinal cancer through the Abramson Cancer Center.

These programs offer knowledge about the presence of genetic risk factors for cancer and provide patients with important, sometimes life-saving options.

Types of Stomach Cancer

  • Adenocarcinoma
    • Intestinal
    • Diffuse
  • Other types of stomach cancer
    • Lymphoma
    • Leiomyosarcoma

Adenocarcinoma

Cancer is described by the types of cells from which it forms. Most stomach cancers are adenocarcinomas. Adenocarcinoma is cancer that starts in cells that have gland-like properties within the tissues that line the inside of the stomach.

Other Types of Stomach Cancer

Other types of stomach cancer may develop in the stomach, but are very rare. These include:

  • Lymphomas Lymphoma is cancer of the lymphatic system. Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma can develop within the stomach. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is believed to play a role in the development of mucosal-associated lymphoid tissue.
  • Leiomyosarcoma: Leiomyosarcoma is cancer of the smooth muscle of the stomach.
  • Stromal tumor (GIST): Tumors from the tissue under cells that line the inside of the stomach and between these cells and the smooth muscle of the stomach.

Stomach Cancer Symptoms

Stomach cancer is usually not discovered until it becomes more advanced when it causes symptoms. Symptoms of stomach cancer include:

  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Indigestion and loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Losing weight without dieting
  • Feeling full or bloated after a small meal
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Vomiting blood or having blood in the stool

Staging Stomach Cancer

Staging systems provide doctors with a common language for describing tumors. After cancer is first diagnosed, a series of tests are used to investigate the extent of the cancer and to see whether it has spread to other parts of the body from where it started. Staging is a way of recording the aggressiveness and growth of a cancer, and determining the plan for treatment. By understanding the stage of their cancer, patients can make informed decisions about their treatment.

Staging stomach cancer attempts to discover the following:

  • The depth of the tumor involving the stomach
  • Whether the cancer has spread to nearby lymph nodes and tissues
  • Whether the cancer has spread to other parts of the body

Stomach Cancer Treatment at Penn

After being diagnosed with stomach cancer, patients at the Abramson Cancer Center may be evaluated through the Gastrointestinal Cancer Evaluation Center (GICEC). The center provides patients with expert support and evaluation to accurate diagnose with appropriate stage and discuss treatment options and individualized treatment plans.

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Patients with gastric cancer are treated by a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists who see more patients with gastrointestinal (GI) cancers in one year than many doctors see in their careers.

The physicians of Penn Medicine’s GI cancer program are nationally recognized for their expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer.

Penn’s GI cancer treatment team includes:

  • Nationally recognized medical experts with years of experience in diagnosing and treating GI cancer [including (not limited) gastroenterologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists, and medical oncologists].
  • Nurses with advanced training and experience in caring for patients with GI cancer.
  • Oncology Navigation Specialists to help patients navigate the health system.
  • Registered dietitians to provide nutrition counseling.
  • Cancer counselors to provide individual or family counseling for issues many cancer patients face.
  • Rehabilitation therapists who specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of physical effects from cancer and its treatment.

Patients at Penn Medicine can benefit from participating in clinical trials that take place at Penn. Patients interested in learning more about clinical trials should speak with someone on their treatment team.

Diagnosing Stomach Cancer

An accurate cancer diagnosis from trusted cancer specialists is the first and crucial step in getting personalized treatment options to treat stomach cancer.

Patients who choose Penn’s Abramson Cancer Center, benefit from a multidisciplinary team of cancer specialists including gastroenterologists, radiologists, pathologists and surgeons who work together to provide a diagnosis and joined with radiation oncologist and medical oncologists to have an appropriate treatment plan custom designed for each patient with stomach cancer.

Cancer specialists at Penn Medicine are highly experienced in using the most advanced techniques for diagnosing stomach cancer and are actively researching better and more precise ways to detect stomach cancer.

Because an accurate diagnosis is a critical step in planning cancer treatment, it’s important patients know that when they come to Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center, they are taking an important step in getting the best cancer treatment.

Navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment options can be difficult, patients who wish to connect with a cancer specialist at Penn Medicine can speak with a cancer nurse, who can help them make an appointment with the right person. Penn Medicine’s contact center has experienced cancer nurses available and ready to guide patients in finding the cancer specialist right for them.

To connect with a cancer nurse at Penn Medicine, patients should call 800-789-PENN.

Read more Diagnosing Stomach Cancer

Stomach Cancer Treatments

Following the diagnosis and staging of stomach cancer, cancer specialists at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center develop a personalized treatment plan. Penn’s treatment options for stomach cancer include:

  • Surgery
    • Partial gastrectomy
    • Total gastrectomy
  • Radiation therapy
    • 3-D conformal radiation therapy
    • Intensity-modulated radiation therapy (IMRT)
    • Proton therapy
    • Volumetric-modulated arc therapy (VMAT)
  • Chemotherapy and biologic therapies
    • Biologic (targeted) therapy
    • Chemoradiotherapy
    • Chemotherapy
  • Clinical trials
  • Other treatments
    • Integrative medicine and wellness
    • Palliative care
    • Penn Home Care and Hospice

ADAM Images

Because navigating a cancer diagnosis and treatment options can be difficult, patients who wish to connect with a cancer specialist at Penn Medicine can speak with a cancer nurse, who can help them make an appointment with the right physician.

To connect with a cancer nurse at Penn Medicine, patients should call 800-789-PENN.

Read more Stomach Cancer Treatments

Stomach Cancer Survivorship

Survivorship programs at Penn Medicine are a distinct phase of stomach cancer care and are designed to help patients' transition from their cancer treatment routine to a post-cancer care lifestyle. There are more than 12 million cancer survivors living and thriving today as a result of advances in cancer treatment. However, cancer treatments can result in physical, emotional and financial complications long after the therapy is complete.

Read more Stomach Cancer Survivorship


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