Stomach Cancer Treatments

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.

Read more About Stomach Cancer

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

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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.

Surgery for Stomach Cancer

Surgery for stomach cancer offers the best possibility for a cure. The surgical expertise and experience of Penn’s gastrointestinal surgery team combined with leading-edge research at Penn offers patients a significant advantage.

Partial Gastrectomy

In a partial or subtotal gastrectomy, the surgeon removes the part of the stomach that contains cancer. The surgeon attaches the remaining part of the stomach to the intestine. Nearby lymph nodes and other tissues may be removed.

Total Gastrectomy

The entire stomach is removed in a total gastrectomy, as well as parts of the esophagus, small intestine, lymph nodes and nearby tissues. The esophagus is then connected to the small intestine. This procedure may be done when the stomach cancer is larger or has spread.

Radiation Therapy for Stomach Cancer

Radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine are recognized for techniques that target radiation precisely to the disease site while sparing nearby tissue. As national leaders in radiation therapy, they are experts in the use of the latest therapies to treat cancer.

Radiation therapy uses high-energy radiation to kill cancer cells. A radiation therapy schedule usually consists of a specific number of treatments given over an extended period of time. In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all of the cancer cells. Radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine use both internal and external forms of radiation therapy to treat cancer. Radiation therapy is commonly combined with chemotherapy or biologic treatment medications.

3-D Conformal Radiation Therapy

The imaging technology used by radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine helps shape the radiation treatment beam to the shape of the tumor. Conformal radiation therapy gives doctors more control when treating tumors.

Special computers use CT imaging scans to create 3-D maps of the location of the cancer in the body. The system permits the delivery of radiation from several directions, and the beams can then be shaped, or conformed, to match the shape of the cancer. Conformal radiation therapy limits radiation exposure to nearby healthy tissue as well as the tissue in the beam's path.

Intensity-modulated Radiation Therapy (IMRT)

This advanced type of radiation therapy uses a computer-controlled device, called a linear accelerator, to deliver precise doses of radiation to tumors or specific areas within the tumors. Radiation therapy, including IMRT, stops cancer cells from dividing and growing, thus slowing or stopping tumor growth. In many cases, radiation therapy is capable of killing all of the cancer cells.

Using 3-D computed tomography (CT) images along with computerized dose calculations, IMRT allows for the radiation dose to conform more precisely to the shape of the tumor by controlling, or modulating, the intensity of the radiation beam. The therapy allows higher radiation doses to be delivered to areas within the tumor while minimizing the dose to the surrounding area.

Proton Therapy

Penn Medicine is the only academic medical center in the country that is using proton therapy to treat recurrent cancer in clinical trials. Also, radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine will soon use proton therapy to treat gastrointestinal cancers in the upper digestive tract.

Penn Medicine's Roberts Proton Therapy Center is the largest and most advanced facility in the world for this precise form of cancer radiation. Patients have access to one of the most sophisticated weapons against cancer, seamlessly integrated with the full range of oncology services available at Penn Medicine. Proton therapy is external beam radiotherapy in which protons are directed at a tumor.

The radiation dose that is given through protons is very precise, and limits the exposure of normal tissues. This allows the radiation dose delivered to the tumor to be increased beyond conventional radiation. The result is a better chance for curing cancer with fewer harmful side effects.

Proton therapy, like all forms of radiation therapy, works by aiming the energized particles, in this case protons, onto the target tumor. The particles damage the DNA of cells, ultimately causing their death. Unlike X-rays, protons can be manipulated to release most of their energy only when they reach their target. With more energy reaching the cancerous cells, more damage is administered by each burst of radiation.

Volumetric-modulated Arc Therapy (VMAT)

Volumetric-modulated arc therapy (VMAT) is a type of specialized intensity modulated radiation therapy. VMAT delivers radiation by rotating the radiation machile, through one or more arcs while radiation is continuously delivered.

VMAT allows Penn radiation oncologists to treat complex cancers while minimizing exposure to surrounding healthy tissue. VMAT shortens radiation delivery time, and offers patient more comfort because it does not require patients to lie completely still for long periods of time.

Penn radiation oncologists use RapidArc™ radiotherapy technology to treat hard to reach tumors.

Chemotherapy and Biologic Therapies for Stomach Cancer

Cancer specialists at Penn Medicine specialize in a multidisciplinary approach to treatment with interdisciplinary care and innovative approaches that use chemotherapy to target tumors prior to and after surgery. Medical oncologists, cancer specialists who treat patients with chemotherapy, are part of a multidisciplinary cancer treatment team who approaches cancer care to treat the whole patient with personalized medicine.

Biologic (Targeted) Therapy

Biologic therapy, also called targeted therapy, uses the patients' own immune system to target cancer cells. Substances made by the body or in a laboratory are used to boost, direct, or restore the body's natural defenses against cancer, and are delivered orally by pill or intravenously.  This type of cancer treatment is also called immunotherapy.


Chemoradiotherapy is the practice in which chemotherapy and radiation therapy are used simultaneously. 


Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells. It is delivered through the bloodstream, targeting cancer cells throughout the body. Chemotherapy is usually delivered intravenously through a catheter, or orally by pill.

Clinical Trials for Stomach Cancer

Today, more and more people are surviving cancer. Clinical trials benefit patients by providing access to breakthrough therapies and treatments. These new advances in cancer treatment are occurring every day at Penn Medicine, giving patients hope that even greater discoveries lie ahead. Through clinical trials:

  • Diagnosing cancer has become more precise.
  • Radiation and surgical techniques have advanced.
  • Medications are more successful.
  • Combinations of medical, surgical and radiation therapy are improving treatment effectiveness and enhancing outcomes.
  • Strategies to address the late effects of cancer and its treatment are improving quality of life.

Penn Medicine is the only facility in the country that is using proton therapy to treat recurrent gastrointestinal tumors in clinical trials. Also, radiation oncologists at Penn Medicine will soon use proton therapy to treat gastrointestinal cancers in the upper digestive tract.

Other Treatments for Stomach Cancer

In addition to standard treatments and clinical trials, patients at Penn Medicine may wish to add additional therapies and treatments such as massage therapy, acupuncture and art therapy. These therapies do not have curative intent, and are designed to complement standard treatments, not take their place.

Integrative Medicine and Wellness Programs

At Penn Medicine, integrative medicine and wellness services can supplement traditional cancer treatments such as chemotherapy, surgery and radiation therapy. While conventional medicine plays a critical role in eradicating cancer, integrative medicine and wellness programs offer patients and their families ways to enhance the quality of their lives, minimize or reduce the side effects of cancer and cancer treatment, and promote healing and recovery.

Cancer specialists at Penn Medicine are knowledgeable and supportive of complementary cancer treatments. The cancer team works with patients and families to integrate these supportive programs into the overall care plan, while ensuring the safety and health of patients.

The Abramson Cancer Center’s range of integrative supportive services is designed to help patients cope with the cancer experience and improve their overall sense of well-being. Services include:

The Abramson Cancer Center at Pennsylvania Hospital at Pennsylvania Hospital offers a variety of supportive care programs for patients and families, from diagnosis through survivorship. These programs are available at no cost to the patients treated at Pennsylvania Hospital, and some are open to patients treated elsewhere. These services include social work counseling, nutrition counseling, psychological counseling and spiritual counseling.

The Cancer Appetite and Rehabilitation Clinic focuses on patients with loss of appetite and weight.

The Supportive Care Clinic helps to manage cancer related symptoms. Integrative support programs include:

Support groups and educational programs are available at Pennsylvania Hospital throughout the year.

Palliative Care

Palliative care provides medical and non-medical interventions to ease the symptoms of cancer and its treatment. Palliative care includes physical, emotional and spiritual care that can enhance the quality of life for cancer patients.

Palliative care can be used to complement traditional cancer therapies, or to improve quality of life when curative therapies are no longer an option.

Palliative care is an approach to patient care that can be integrated with curative therapies at any point from diagnosis to survivorship or end-of-life care.

Palliative care services include palliative chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery as well as psychological counseling, art therapy and support groups for patients and families. The goals of palliative care are to enhance the quality of life for cancer patients and their families, and provide emotional and spiritual support to enhance personal growth.

Palliative care services are offered at Pennsylvania Hospital, and at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.  

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services offers a full range of home health care needs by partnering three top-level home health care services under one roof:

Penn Home Care and Hospice Services offers an array of specialized therapies and medications for patients with cancer and cancer-related conditions.

Oncology Patient Navigators

Every step of cancer treatment, from a cancer diagnosis, to surgery and treatment to forming a survivorship plan, comes with different needs and issues that should be addressed.

Oncology patient navigators are committed to making sure a patient’s experience is as comfortable as possible. They are experts in navigating complex healthcare situations and serve as a consistent point of contact and a reliable source for advice, support and direction for patients and families.

Learn more about Oncology Patient Navigators at the Abramson Cancer Center.

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

Stand Up to Cancer

Peter O'Dwyer, MD, professor of Hematology-Oncology and program director of Development Therapeutics in the Abramson Cancer Center, was interviewed on NBC10's 10! Show about Penn's work as part of the Stand Up to Cancer Dream Team... Read more

Clinical Trials

Stomach Cancer Trials

A Phase 1 Study of the Safety, Tolerability, Pharmacokinetics and Immunoregulatory Activity of... more