The main symptoms of stomach cancer include:
- Weight loss for no apparent reason
- Decreased appetite
- Persistent abdominal pain, particularly above the bellybutton
- Pain with abdominal palpation
- Feeling stomach fullness, even after a light meal
- Excessive fatigue
- Vomiting, which can contain blood in some cases
- Bright red blood in the stool, dark stool, or foul-smelling stool in some cases
- Constant heartburn
In some cases, patients may also report palpable nodules in the abdominal area, swollen lymph nodes in the neck, enlarged liver size and yellow skin or eyes. These are signs of a more advanced stage of stomach cancer. If you notice any of these symptoms, you should see a gastroenterologist for further testing and treatment as needed.
Stomach cancer does not usually cause noticeable symptoms right away, which is why it is often diagnosed in its more advanced stages. As a result, treatment can be more complicated and the risk of cure is lower.
Confirming a diagnosis
Stomach cancer diagnosis is confirmed by a gastroenterologist or family doctor through assessment of the patient’s signs and symptoms.
Symptoms can present very similarly to other gastrointestinal conditions, however. More specific tests are often ordered to rule out other possible diagnoses, like gastric ulcers and H. pylori infection.
The doctor will likely order an endoscopy, which involves the insertion of a small camera through the mouth and into the stomach to evaluate characteristics of the stomach tissue. If abnormalities are seen, the doctor may collect a small specimen of stomach tissue for biopsy to look more closely at stomach cell characteristics. This specimen can confirm or rule out cancer.
If signs of malignancy are noted by the doctor, he or she may also order a CT scan or MRI to certify the stage of cancer and determine the best treatment approach.
Stomach cancer is not associated with a specific cause. However, there are risk factors that make people more prone to developing it, like obesity, excessive alcohol consumption, smoking, H. pylori infection and/or stomach ulcers that are left untreated, frequent and prolonged exposure to UV radiation, excessive consumption of processed foods, pernicious anemia, achlorhydria and gastric atrophy.