Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, usually begins in the lining in the upper part of the stomach.
Stomach cancer is a relatively common cancer in Australia, however the number of people diagnosed has been falling. It is rare in people under 50 years of age and affects more men than women.
In 2015, 2222 new cases of stomach cancer were diagnosed in Australia. In 2018 it was estimated that the risk of being diagnosed with stomach cancer by age 85 was 1 in 151 for men compared to 1 in 316 for women.
In 2016, there were 1087 deaths due to stomach cancer in Australia.
The five year survival rate for stomach cancer is 30%.
Diagnosis for stomach cancer
If your doctor thinks you may have stomach cancer, you will be referred for further tests. The main test is an endoscopy (also known as a gastroscopy). The doctor will use a thin, flexible tube with a camera (endoscope), which passes into the mouth, down the throat and oesophagus into the stomach in order to look at the digestive tract.
If any suspicious-looking areas are detected, a small amount of tissue from the stomach lining may be removed (biopsy) and examined under a microscope. Less commonly used is an endoscopic ultrasound where the endoscope has an ultrasound probe at the end.
Treatment for stomach cancer
After stomach cancer is diagnosed, one or more of the following tests are used to determine the extent of the cancer (its stage):
- CT scan
- ultrasound scan
- PET scan
- bone scan.
The staging system used for stomach cancer is the TNM system, which describes the stage of the cancer from stage I to stage IV.
Types of treatment
The main treatment for stomach cancer is surgery – a total or partial gastrectomy (removing all or part of the stomach). Chemotherapy may be given before surgery to shrink larger tumours. It can also be used after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer returning.
Any initial symptoms will be assessed by your general practitioner (GP). Your GP will also be a part of your treatment team after a diagnosis. Depending on your treatment, your team of health professionals may consist of a number of different specialists, including:
- a gastroenterologist who specialises in diseases of the digestive system
- an upper gastrointestinal surgeon who treats diseases of the upper digestive system using surgery
- a medical oncologist who prescribes the course of chemotherapy
- a radiation oncologist who prescribes the course of radiation therapy
- cancer nurses
- other health professionals such as a dietician, physiotherapist, social worker or counsellor.
In some cases of stomach cancer, your medical team may talk to you about palliative care. Palliative care aims to improve your quality of life by alleviating symptoms of cancer.
As well as slowing the spread of stomach cancer, palliative treatment can relieve pain and help manage other symptoms. Treatment may include radiotherapy, chemotherapy or other drug therapies.