Stomach (Gastric) Cancer

Stomach cancer occurs when cells in the stomach—a muscular organ that digests food—undergo abnormal changes that cause them to grow and divide uncontrollably. The excess cells then bind together and form tumors, which may grow deep into the stomach walls or invade nearby organs, such as the liver and pancreas. In most cases, stomach cancer originates in the innermost lining of the stomach (mucosa), which contains gastric glands that secrete digestive acids and enzymes.

What causes stomach cancer?

Although the precise causes are not yet fully understood by scientists in the general medical community, researchers have linked certain dietary and lifestyle choices with an increased risk of stomach cancer. Specifically, experts believe that sodium nitrate—a chemical found in cured and processed meats as well as smoked, salted and pickled foods—can potentially transform into a cancer-causing substance. Over the last several decades, the incidence of stomach cancer has been steadily declining in the United States, possibly due to the widespread availability of refrigeration, which has increased access to fresh food without preservatives or bacterial contamination.

What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?

The symptoms of early-stage stomach cancer are often similar to those of other, less serious conditions, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and gastric ulcers. For instance, many people experience:

  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea or vomiting without blood
  • Bloating
  • Stomach pain
  • Unintended weight loss
  • Anemia

As stomach cancer progresses, it may produce additional symptoms, such as:

  • Weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Vomiting with blood
  • Bloody stool
  • Unintended weight loss
Patient getting treatment for stomach cancer

How is stomach cancer treated?

Stomach cancer treatment can vary based on several factors, including the stage and location of the tumor as well as the patient’s age, overall health and preferences. If an early-stage tumor is confined to the uppermost layers of the stomach, an endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD) may be considered. During this procedure, the tumor is dissected from the gastric wall and removed through the mouth. Other possible options include radiation therapy, chemotherapy and targeted therapy.

If a tumor has grown beyond the superficial layers of the stomach, a partial or total gastrectomy may be considered. During this procedure, part or all of the stomach is removed; then, if necessary to restore digestive function, the esophagus is connected directly to the small intestine.

Moffitt's approach

In Moffitt Cancer Center’s renowned Gastrointestinal Oncology Program, our patients can benefit from the expertise of multiple stomach cancer specialists, including surgical oncologists, medical oncologists, radiation oncologists, gastroenterologists, rehabilitation therapists and supportive care specialists. Together, we take a highly collaborative and coordinated approach to stomach cancer treatment, helping each patient achieve the best possible outcome and quality of life.

In addition to a full range of traditional stomach cancer treatment options, Moffitt also has a robust portfolio of clinical trials, which provide our patients with opportunities to be among the first to benefit from cutting-edge treatments that are not yet available in other settings. Due in part to our trailblazing research, Moffitt has earned the prestigious designation of Comprehensive Cancer Center from the National Cancer Institute.

To request an appointment with a specialist in the Gastrointestinal Oncology Program at Moffitt Cancer Center, call 1-888-663-3488 or complete our new patient registration form online. As Florida’s top cancer hospital, Moffitt is changing the model. We know that every day counts after a cancer diagnosis, and we want to support you with compassionate care every step of the way.