Stomach Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Stomach Cancer: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

As an oncologist, I have dedicated my career to understanding cancer and helping my patients navigate its complexities. My name is Dr. Ekta Vala, and over the years, I have encountered numerous cases of the disease, each unique and challenging in its own way.

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is a condition that often goes unnoticed until it reaches an advanced stage. In this blog, I will share insights into the causes, symptoms, and treatment options, hoping to raise awareness and provide valuable information to those at risk.

Understanding the disease

It begins when cells in the stomach start to grow uncontrollably. The stomach, a key component of the digestive system, plays a vital role in breaking down food and absorbing nutrients. It can develop in any part of the stomach and may spread to other parts of the body if not detected and treated early.

Causes of the disease

The exact cause is not fully understood, but several risk factors have been identified that may increase the likelihood of developing the disease. These include:

  1. Helicobacter Pylori Infection
    • Chronic infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria is a significant risk factor for stomach cancer. H. pylori infection can cause inflammation and ulcers in the stomach lining, which can lead to cancer over time.
  2. Dietary Factors
    • Diet plays a crucial role in the development of stomach cancer. Diets high in salty, smoked, and pickled foods have been linked to an increased risk. Conversely, a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables may reduce the risk.
  3. Smoking and Alcohol
    • Smoking and excessive alcohol consumption are known to increase the risk of stomach cancer. Smoking introduces harmful chemicals into the body, while alcohol can irritate the stomach lining.
  4. Genetic Factors
    • Family history and genetic mutations can also play a role. Individuals with a family history of stomach cancer or certain genetic syndromes are at higher risk.
  5. Previous Stomach Surgery
    • People who have had part of their stomach removed for non-cancerous conditions may be at increased risk of developing stomach cancer later in life.
  6. Medical Conditions
    • Certain medical conditions, such as chronic gastritis, pernicious anemia, and intestinal metaplasia, are associated with a higher risk of stomach cancer.

Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

It often does not cause symptoms in the early stages, making it difficult to detect. When symptoms do appear, they can be vague and easily mistaken for other less serious conditions. Common symptoms include:

  1. Indigestion and Heartburn
    • Persistent indigestion and heartburn that do not respond to standard treatments can be an early sign of stomach cancer.
  2. Abdominal Pain and Discomfort
    • Unexplained abdominal pain, discomfort, or a feeling of fullness after eating small amounts of food can indicate a problem.
  3. Nausea and Vomiting
    • Nausea and vomiting, especially if accompanied by blood, can be a sign of advanced stomach cancer.
  4. Loss of Appetite and Weight Loss
    • A significant and unexplained loss of appetite and weight can be a symptom of stomach cancer.
  5. Fatigue and Weakness
    • Persistent fatigue and weakness, often due to anemia caused by bleeding in the stomach, can be indicative of stomach cancer.
  6. Difficulty Swallowing
    • Difficulty swallowing, particularly if the cancer is located near the esophagus, can be a symptom.

Diagnosis of Stomach Cancer

If stomach cancer is suspected, several diagnostic tests can be performed to confirm the diagnosis and determine the stage of the disease:

  1. Endoscopy
    • An endoscopy involves inserting a thin, flexible tube with a camera into the stomach to examine the lining and take biopsy samples.
  2. Imaging Tests
    • Imaging tests such as CT scans, MRI, and PET scans can provide detailed images of the stomach and surrounding tissues to assess the extent of the cancer.
  3. Biopsy
    • A biopsy involves taking a small sample of tissue from the stomach lining to be examined under a microscope for cancer cells.
  4. Blood Tests
    • Blood tests can help identify anemia and other abnormalities that may be associated with stomach cancer.

Treatment Options for Stomach Cancer

The treatment depends on the stage of the disease, the location of the tumor, and the patient’s overall health. Treatment options include:

  1. Surgery
    • Surgery is a common treatment, particularly in the early stages. The goal is to remove the tumor and, in some cases, part or all of the stomach. Types of surgery include partial gastrectomy (removal of part of the stomach) and total gastrectomy (removal of the entire stomach).
  2. Chemotherapy
    • Chemotherapy uses drugs to kill cancer cells and shrink tumors. It can be used before surgery (neoadjuvant chemotherapy) to reduce the size of the tumor or after surgery (adjuvant chemotherapy) to eliminate any remaining cancer cells.
  3. Radiation Therapy
    • Radiation therapy uses high-energy rays to target and kill cancer cells. It can be used in combination with surgery and chemotherapy to treat stomach cancer.
  4. Targeted Therapy
    • Targeted therapy involves using drugs that specifically target the molecules involved in cancer growth. These therapies can be used to treat certain types of stomach cancer that have specific genetic mutations.
  5. Immunotherapy
    • Immunotherapy helps the body’s immune system recognize and attack cancer cells. It is a newer treatment option that has shown promise in treating certain types of stomach cancer.
  6. Palliative Care
    • For advanced cases, palliative care focuses on relieving symptoms and improving quality of life. This may include pain management, nutritional support, and psychological counseling.

Prevention and Early Detection

While it is not always possible to prevent it, certain lifestyle changes can reduce the risk:

  1. Healthy Diet
    • Eating a diet rich in fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains can lower the risk of stomach cancer. Limiting the intake of salty, smoked, and pickled foods is also important.
  2. Quit Smoking
    • Smoking is a significant risk factor for stomach cancer. Quitting smoking can greatly reduce the risk.
  3. Limit Alcohol Consumption
    • Reducing alcohol intake can help lower the risk of developing stomach cancer.
  4. Regular Check-Ups
    • Regular medical check-ups and screenings, especially for those with risk factors, can help detect stomach cancer early when it is more treatable.
  5. Manage H. Pylori Infection
    • Treating H. pylori infection with antibiotics can reduce the risk of developing stomach cancer.


Stomach cancer is a serious condition that requires early detection and appropriate treatment to improve outcomes. By understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and seeking timely medical attention, individuals can take proactive steps to protect their health. As an oncologist, I am committed to raising awareness about stomach cancer and providing the best possible care to my patients. Together, we can work towards reducing the impact of this disease and improving the quality of life for those affected.