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JAMA Patient Page
January 14, 2004

Stomach Cancer

JAMA. 2004;291(2):266. doi:10.1001/jama.291.2.266

In the United States, more than 20,000 individuals are diagnosed with gastric (stomach) cancer each year. Men are more likely to have stomach cancer than women are. Stomach cancer usually affects persons who are older than 55 years, although it may occur at younger ages. Individuals from Asia have the highest rates of stomach cancer. Because stomach cancer may occur without symptoms, it may be in advanced stages by the time the diagnosis is made. Treatment is then directed at making the patient more comfortable and improving quality of life. Stomach cancer can metastasize (spread) to other organs of the body. The January 14, 2004, issue of JAMA includes an article about gastric cancer.

Symptoms of stomach cancer

  • Loss of appetite

  • Weight loss without dieting

  • Abdominal pain, with or without swelling

  • Feeling full after small amounts of food

  • Indigestion

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Vomiting blood

Testing for stomach cancer

If your doctor suspects that you may have stomach cancer, you will have basic tests such as a blood test to look for anemia (low red blood cell count). Other tests may include a computed tomography (CT) scan (computerized x-ray) of the abdomen or an upper GI series (a special x-ray test using a barium-containing liquid). A doctor can examine the inside of the stomach using an endoscope, a lighted tube that is placed through the mouth into the esophagus (the tube that connects the mouth to the stomach) and then into the stomach. This test is done by a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in the diagnosis and management of digestive diseases.

Treating stomach cancer

Surgery is often the main treatment for stomach cancer. Several different operations are used based on the location of the cancer in the stomach. Because these operations are all considered major surgery, patients will need medical preparation before surgery and time for recovery from the operation. Risks and benefits of these operations may vary with specific medical conditions. Chemotherapy (use of anticancer drugs) and radiation therapy (use of high-energy rays to kill cancer cells) may be used in addition to surgery to help in treating stomach cancer. Because each patient is different, treatment is individualized for each patient's particular situation. Both chemotherapy and radiation therapy can be used to improve quality of life and decrease symptoms from stomach cancer, even if curative surgery is not possible. Scientists are trying to learn more about what causes this type of cancer and how it can be detected earlier. Finding stomach cancer in the early stages improves chances of living longer if proper treatment is received.

For more information

Inform yourself

To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the Patient Page link on JAMA's Web site at http://www.jama.com. Many are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on colon cancer screening was published in the March 12, 2003, issue; and one on colon cancer was published in the December 20, 2000, issue.

Sources: American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute, American Gastroenterological Association

The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA. The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals to share with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject to AMA approval. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.