Stomach cancer: cause, symptoms, treatment, prognosis

Gastric cancer is a malignant tumor in the stomach. Lung cancer is the most common worldwide, followed by stomach cancer. Stomach cancer mainly occurs in people over fifty years of age and more often in men than in women. What causes stomach cancer and what are the symptoms? What are the treatment options and what is the prognosis if stomach cancer has been diagnosed?

Article content

  • Stomach
  • Stomach cancer
  • Causes of stomach cancer
  • Stomach cancer symptoms
  • Diagnosis of stomach cancer
  • Stomach cancer treatment
  • Complaints after stomach surgery
  • Stomach cancer prognosis


The stomach can be described as a bag-shaped organ. The stomach is part of the digestive tract and is located at the top of the abdomen, below the liver and below the left half of the diaphragm. When you eat something, the food enters the stomach via the esophagus and stays there for a few hours. The stomach consists of muscle tissue (three layers), covered by the peritoneum.

Stomach cancer

Stomach cancer: a malignant tumor in the stomach wall. This form of cancer is more common in people over the age of fifty (and cases increase with age). Twice as much in men as in women. It is more common in people with blood type A and stomach cancer sometimes runs in families. The latter could indicate a hereditary factor. There are also some risk factors (see under the heading Causes of stomach cancer). If you look at the entire world, stomach cancer is in second place, lung cancer is the most common. Stomach cancer is particularly common in Japan and China, and diet probably plays a role. It is estimated that in the Netherlands, stomach cancer is diagnosed approximately seventeen hundred times every year.

Causes of stomach cancer

It is not yet known exactly what causes stomach cancer. There is probably more than one cause. There are some known factors.

  • Chronic gastritis due to Helicobacter pylori infection increases the risk of stomach cancer.
  • Certain dietary patterns can also have a negative influence: a diet high in salt, smoked foods, foods preserved in acid, few leafy vegetables and little fresh fruit.
  • Other risk factors include smoking and consuming a lot of alcohol .
  • Heredity appears to play a role in approximately three to five percent of people with stomach cancer . With a hereditary form of stomach cancer, stomach cancer often occurs at a young age (for example before the age of forty).

Stomach cancer symptoms

In the beginning, the complaints are often vague and may therefore go unnoticed:

  • An unpleasant feeling in the upper abdomen;
  • Stomach pain after consuming food;
  • Have less appetite for food;
  • Weight loss;
  • A feeling of nausea, vomiting.

Over time, anemia may develop, which is due to small bleeding from the affected stomach wall. Someone may experience a bloated feeling in the abdomen.

Diagnosis of stomach cancer

  • Stomach cancer develops in the stomach lining and from there it can spread to other tissues. The diagnosis is often made late because the complaints are usually mild. When people develop complaints and go to the doctor, the cancer has often already spread.
  • A visual examination of the stomach can be performed: gastroscopy. This examination is performed using an endoscope. During the examination, ‘bites’ can be taken from places that look suspicious.
  • The blood can be tested for anemia (to detect any bleeding).
  • If the diagnosis has been made of stomach cancer, the following tests can be done: CT scan and blood tests to see whether the cancer has spread in the body.

Stomach cancer treatment

  • Surgery is the only effective treatment for stomach cancer. It is important that the tumor is removed at the earliest possible stage. But in two out of ten cases it is possible because the cancer has usually already spread by the time it is diagnosed. If surgery is possible, part of the stomach or the entire stomach will be removed. Nearby lymph nodes are also removed because the cancer can easily spread through the lymph nodes.
  • If the cancer has already spread to other organs, surgery can extend someone’s life. In some cases, surgery is only performed to relieve the symptoms (palliative).
  • Sometimes radiation and chemotherapy are used to prevent the disease from spreading and for pain relief. Strong painkillers can also be used to reduce pain.

Complaints after stomach surgery

Many people suffer from pain or fatigue after stomach surgery. It depends on the type of operation and it naturally varies from person to person whether and which complaints occur. The complaints usually diminish as time goes by. The body will adapt to the new situation.

The most common complaints

  • Dumping syndrome : after gastric surgery, food often enters the small intestine faster than before. It is also possible that larger amounts of food enter the small intestine at the same time.
  • Small stomach : if the stomach or part of the stomach is removed, the storage capacity is reduced. You can already feel full after a small meal. You may also feel nauseous after eating or vomit after eating. Spread meals throughout the day and eat small portions.
  • Loss of weight : someone may (unknowingly) eat less due to the complaints that arise during or after eating. After surgery, a person may also have less appetite. Eat several small meals a day instead of three large meals. Also regularly have an energy-rich snack. Ask a dietitian for advice.
  • Biliary reflux : the small intestinal contents flow back into the stomach or into the esophagus. This can occur, for example, if the normal transition from the stomach to the small intestine is removed during gastric surgery. The sphincter that ensures one-way traffic is therefore removed during the operation. Ask your doctor for advice, who can, for example, prescribe a stomach-protective medication to reduce the symptoms.
  • Heartburn : stomach contents flow back into the esophagus (reflux). Ask your doctor for advice: nutritional advice and tips to reduce the symptoms; the doctor may prescribe antacid medications.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency : if the stomach has been partially or completely removed, you may develop a vitamin B12 deficiency. The stomach produces gastric juice which contains, among other things, a substance called intrinsic factor. This substance is necessary for the absorption of vitamin B12 from food. If the stomach or part of it is removed, you cannot absorb or hardly absorb vitamin B12 from food. A vitamin B12 deficiency can cause various complaints. Many people need vitamin B12 injections after stomach surgery (to prevent damage to the nervous system).
  • Diarrhea : food enters the small intestine more quickly than usual. The mush of food is less well mixed with digestive juices. This can cause diarrhea. Make sure you drink plenty of fluids and eat fiber-rich foods.

Stomach cancer prognosis

If stomach cancer is discovered at an early stage, the chance of recovery is high . Unfortunately, it is often discovered at a late stage. But in countries where stomach cancer is common (e.g. Japan), population studies exist to detect stomach cancer early. In these countries, approximately eight out of ten people with stomach cancer are still alive five years after diagnosis and surgery. But in the rest of the world things are different and the prognosis is much worse.