Stomach cancer

Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is a less common type of cancer. The early symptoms (see below) are similar to those in less serious conditions, and it is often diagnosed at a late stage. You should get any persistent symptoms checked by your GP to rule out stomach cancer.

Symptoms for stomach cancer

The initial symptoms of stomach cancer are vague and easy to mistake for other less serious conditions. They include:

Symptoms of advanced stomach cancer can include:

  • blood in your stools, or black stools
  • loss of appetite
  • weight loss

When to see your GP

As the early symptoms of stomach cancer are similar to those of many other conditions, the cancer is often advanced by the time it's diagnosed.

It's therefore important not to delay asking your GP for advice if you think you have the symptoms.

Your GP will ask about your symptoms and examine your tummy. If they think that stomach cancer may be a possibility they'll refer you to a specialist for further investigation.

Causes of stomach cancer

The exact cause of stomach cancer is still unclear, although you're more likely to develop it if you:

  • are male
  • are 55 years of age or older
  • smoke
  • have a diet low in fibre and high in processed food or red meat
  • have a diet that contains a lot of salted and pickled foods
  • have a stomach infection caused by Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria

Treating stomach cancer

Many cases of stomach cancer can't be completely cured. But it's still possible to relieve symptoms and improve quality of life using chemotherapy and in some cases radiotherapy and surgery.

The health professional looking after your care will discuss with you the most appropriate treatment.

If it is decided that it is best to operate, surgery can cure stomach cancer, as long as all of the cancerous tissue can be removed.

Surgery to remove some or all of the stomach is known as a gastrectomy. It will still be possible to eat normally after a gastrectomy, but you'll probably have to adjust the size of your portions.

Chemotherapy can also be used before surgery to help shrink the tumour and sometimes after surgery to help prevent the cancer returning.

Living with stomach cancer

Being diagnosed with cancer is a tough challenge for most people. But support is available to help you cope – see the ‘more useful links’ section.

You may find the following advice helpful:

  • keep talking to your friends and family – they can be a powerful support system
  • talk to others in the same situation
  • research your condition
  • set reasonable goals
  • take time out for yourself

Outlook

The outlook for stomach cancer depends on several factors, including your age, your general health, and how far the cancer has spread (the stage of the condition).

Unfortunately, as stomach cancer isn't often picked up until the later stages, the outlook isn't as good as for some other cancers. Of all those with stomach cancer in Northern Ireland, about:

  • 43 out of 100 people will live for at least one year after diagnosis and treatment
  • 19 out of 100 people will live for at least five years after diagnosis and treatment

With improvements in treatment, and earlier diagnosis, the outlook has been steadily improving overall, for people diagnosed with stomach cancer in Northern Ireland.

The information on this page has been adapted from original content from the NHS website.

For further information see terms and conditions.

This page was published April 2018

This page is due for review April 2019

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