Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

by Dr Amit Jotwani

Cancer does not always give characteristic symptoms. Many a time, the cancer is silent, i.e it gives little or no signs or symptoms, making it difficult to detect it in the early stages.

picture of stomach cancer picture There are other cases wherein the symptoms produced by the cancer are similar to many routine infections or conditions often resulting in misdiagnosis and late detection. One such cancer is stomach or gastric cancer, which is often silent in the earlier stages with no specific symptoms and becomes symptomatic only in the later or advanced stages. 

The stomach is placed midway in the abdomen and is anatomically and functionally related to other nearby structures and organs such as the liver, pancreas, oesophagus and colon. For this reason, these structures share common risk factors for developing cancer. Most stomach cancers are adenocarcinomas that form in the glandular cells of the stomach’s innermost lining. Due to structural and functional position of the stomach, the symptoms produced as a result of stomach cancer are easy to overlook or misunderstand.

Based on its nature, stomach cancer symptoms can be classified into two broad types – Early-Stage symptoms and Advanced-Stage symptoms. 

Early-Stage Symptoms

It is common for people with early-stage stomach cancer to show absolutely no signs or experience any symptoms. But, as the cancer begins to grow and spread, some symptoms may be felt by the patients such as: 

  • Pain in the abdomen above the navel
  • Heartburn
  • A sense of fullness in the upper abdomen even after eating a small meal
  • Frequent indigestion
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Decrease in appetite
  • Unexplained weight loss

When you read this list of symptoms, you realise that many of these symptoms are also seen with other conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome, GERD, allergy to foods, stomach ulcer, viral or bacterial infections etc. While many people choose to treat a lot of these symptoms using home remedies, very few actually visit their doctor, only to be misdiagnosed.

Advanced Stage Symptoms 

Compared to the western countries, Gastric cancer is as common in India with it being the 4th most common cancer and the 3rd most common cancer in men.

If not detected in the earlier stages, stomach cancer grows into the advanced stages and can also spread to other organs like the liver, lungs and peritoneum. Symptoms that are experienced by the patients in the advanced stages are far more serious than those in the early stages. 

These symptoms include:

  • Generalised body weakness and fatigue
  • Blood in stool
  • Uncontrolled vomiting
  • Jaundice when the cancer affects the liver
  • Swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen (Ascites)
  • Low red blood cell count (Anaemia)

The primary reason that stomach cancer is usually detected in advanced stages is the lack of routine screening for it. However, in countries like Japan, where stomach cancer is a common occurrence, routine mass screenings are done which results in early detection of the condition. However, routine screening has not proven to be beneficial yet.

Based on the symptoms shown by the patient, the doctor might suggest an upper gastrointestinal endoscopy, biopsy, and/or CT scans in order to confirm gastric cancer. Based on the stage of stomach cancer, the appropriate treatment is given to the patient and usually, early detection and diagnosis have a better treatment success rate in this cancer type. 

While November is the month of stomach cancer awareness, let us raise awareness on its causes, symptoms, diagnosis and early treatment. Here’s where you can know all about stomach cancer.

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