Gastric (Stomach) Cancer Types, Symptoms, and Risks

Gastric cancer — or cancer of the stomach — is the fourth most common cancer in the world.

It's less common in the United States.

Diagnoses of around 21,000 new stomach cancer cases each year have stayed about the same since 2005. And, fewer people in the U.S. die from the disease.

At UPMC Hillman CancerCenter, we offer state-of-the-art treatments for people with gastric cancer. Our team of specialists work together to accurately diagnose your cancer and design a tailored treatment plan to meet your unique needs.

We also offer risk reduction education and early detection services for many types of cancers.

Even if you've received stomach cancer screening or care at another center, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center has treatment options for you.

What Is Stomach Cancer?

Stomach cancer forms in the tissues that line the stomach.

The stomach is the part of your gastrointestinal system that breaks down and digests food and helps remove waste from your body.

When the cells that line your stomach change and grow out of control, they can form a tumor.

A cancerous tumor can form anywhere in the stomach and — like other cancers — can spread to lymph nodes or other organs.

Types of Stomach Cancer

Most stomach cancers are adenocarcinomas that form in the cells that make mucus and other fluids.

Other types of stomach cancers are rare, but include:

  • Gastrointestinal stromal tumor — a type of soft-tissue cancer (sarcoma)
  • Gastrointestinal carcinoid tumors
  • Lymphomas

Stomach Cancer Early Signs and Symptoms

Stomach cancer has few symptoms in the early stages. They often resemble signs of other digestive problems such as ulcers or infection.

Some warning signs include:

  • Problems swallowing.
  • Discomfort or pain in the stomach.
  • Feeling bloated after a small meal.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Vomiting blood or having blood in your stool.
  • Unexplained weight loss.

Call your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. Even if the cause isn't stomach cancer, they might be signs of other health problems that need treatment.

Stomach Cancer Risk Factors

Stomach cancer is more common in men than women. It's even more common in men of African American, Hispanic, and Asian descent.

One of the main risk factors is infection with Helicobacter pylori bacteria. This infection causes inflammation and stomach ulcers. Doctors can treat it with antibiotics.

If you have a close family member who has stomach cancer or an H. pylori infection, this increases your risk. So, you might want to ask your doctor to test you for the bacteria.

Other risk factors include:

  • Excessive alcohol consumption.
  • Family history of gastric cancer.
  • High-salt diet.
  • Obesity.
  • Occupational chemical exposure.
  • Smoking.
  • Genetics, including some inherited syndromes — such as familial adenomatous polyposis.

Early Stages of Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer usually doesn't have symptoms, and it often goes undiagnosed until it's at a later stage.

Your doctor diagnoses stomach cancer through a physical exam followed by a biopsy or endoscopy.

  • A biopsy is minor surgery to remove a piece of the abnormal tissue for study under a microscope.
  • During an endoscopy, the doctor inserts a small tube with a camera down the throat to see into the stomach.

Doctors stage stomach cancer based on:

  • The tumor size.
  • The number of lymph nodes involved.
  • If it has spread (metastasized) to other parts of the body.

They call this TNM staging.

Stomach cancer staging is as follows:

  • Stage 0 — early cancer hasn't grown into deeper layers of the stomach.
  • Stage I — the cancer has grown into the stomach wall's inner layers or the outer muscle layers. It may have also spread to one or two lymph nodes.
  • Stage II — the tumor has grown into deeper layers of the stomach wall. Cancer has spread to some lymph nodes but not to other parts of the body.
  • Stage III — the tumor is larger, growing through layers of the stomach and into connective tissue outside the stomach. The cancer has spread to some lymph nodes but hasn't spread beyond the stomach.
  • Stage IV — the cancer has spread to other organs beyond the stomach.

Contact Us About Colon, Rectal, and Gastrointestinal Cancer 

To learn more about Colorectal and Gastrointestinal Cancers or to make an appointment, you can: