Symptoms for stomach cancer
The initial symptoms of stomach cancer are vague and easy to mistake for other less serious conditions. They include:
- persistent indigestion and heartburn
- trapped wind and frequent burping
- feeling very full or bloated after meals
- persistent stomach pain
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
- 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
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.