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Stomach Cancer: Symptoms & Causes

Medically reviewed by Kevin Tin, MD, Susan Kerrigan, MD and Marianne Madsen on January 22, 2023

Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is a type of cancer that usually starts in the stomach lining and, over a period of several years, spreads to the rest of the stomach. Around 27,000 Americans are diagnosed with stomach cancer each year, and 11,000 will die as a result of the disease. 


What causes stomach cancer?


Although there is no one direct cause of stomach cancer, certain lifestyle and genetic factors can greatly increase your risk of developing it. Some risk factors of stomach cancer include:


  • Smoking tobacco
  • Eating a diet that includes high amounts of smoked or salty foods
  • Eating a diet that is low in fruits and vegetables
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Being over the age of 50
  • Being male
  • In the US: African Americans, Hispanic and Asian descent
  • Having a family history of the disease
  • Being infected with the Helicobacter pylori bacteria
  • Having precancerous stomach polyps (abnormal growths)
  • Having pernicious anemia
  • Having type A blood
  • Certain Inherited cancer syndromes 


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To reduce your risk of developing stomach cancer, you can make a few lifestyle changes.


  • Get regular exercise. Daily exercise has been shown to decrease your chances of developing stomach cancer.
  • Eat fruits and vegetables. 
  • Limit your intake of smoked and salty foods, like deli meats, hot dogs, and smoked fish.
  • Don’t smoke.


Symptoms of stomach cancer


When stomach cancer is in its early stages, it may not present any symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, it can cause:


  • Stomach or upper abdominal pain
  • Frequent vomiting
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Persistent heartburn or indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Poor appetite
  • Blood in stool
  • Feeling full after eating a small amount of food


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Some of these symptoms may not present themselves until the cancer is at an advanced stage. In fact, only 1 in 5 cases of stomach cancer in the United States is detected in its early stages. 


However, it’s important to note that experiencing one or even several of the above symptoms is not necessarily a likely indicator of stomach cancer. Many other conditions, such as norovirus or ulcers, can cause similar symptoms.


Treating stomach cancer


Stomach cancer can be treated via:


  • Surgery, where tumors or parts of the stomach affected by cancer are removed
  • Chemotherapy, in which drugs are used to kill cancer cells
  • Targeted therapies, which use certain drugs to target and kill cancer cells
  • Radiation therapy, in which radiation is used to kill cancer cells
  • Immunotherapy, a relatively new cancer treatment that assists a person’s immune system in targeting and destroying cancer cells through the use of drugs


All of the above-mentioned treatments are likely to cause side effects, such as:


  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Hair loss
  • Mouth sores
  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue


If you have been experiencing potential symptoms of stomach cancer, let your doctor know as soon as possible. The earlier the disease is treated, the better your outcome is likely to be. 


Written by Natan Rosenfeld

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