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Stomach (gastric) cancer usually starts in the lining of the stomach. It often grows slowly for several years. Most people don’t notice symptoms until the cancer is advanced.
The stomach cancer experts at the UCLA Gastrointestinal Oncology Program will assess your condition and plan your personalized treatment. Our team is at the forefront of diagnosing and treating gastric cancer, including through clinical trials that give you access to new treatments that aren’t yet widely available.
What Is Stomach Cancer?
Stomach cancer occurs when cells mutate (change) in the stomach lining or deeper in the stomach wall. The most common type of gastric cancer is adenocarcinoma. About 95% of stomach cancers are adenocarcinoma tumors. Learn more about stomach cancer.
Doctors aren’t sure what causes some types of stomach cancer, but risk factors may include:
- Eating large amounts of salted, preserved or smoked foods
- Heliobactor pylori (h. pylori) infection
- Family history of gastric cancer or familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
- Menetrier disease (giant hypertrophic gastritis)
- Pernicious anemia
What are the symptoms of stomach cancer?
Many stomach cancers go undiagnosed for a long time because their symptoms can be mistaken for other, less serious gastrointestinal disorders. As cancer progresses, the symptoms become more noticeable. Symptoms might include:
- Indigestion, heartburn or pain that doesn’t go away
- Bloating after eating
- Nausea or vomiting after meals
- Trouble swallowing
- Persistent burping (belching)
- Stomach ulcer that doesn’t go away
- Fluid buildup (ascites) in the abdomen (belly)
- Jaundice (a yellow tint to the skin or eyes)
How Is Stomach Cancer Diagnosed?
If your doctor suspects stomach cancer, you’ll get a number of tests to confirm the diagnosis. These tests can also help your doctor understand the extent of the cancer in your stomach or other organs:
- Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): Using an endoscope, a thin tube inserted in the throat, your doctor can see inside the in the walls of the esophagus and surrounding organs. Read more about interventional endoscopy.
- Barium X-ray: You drink a liquid containing barium, an element that shows up on X-rays. Your doctor will see any abnormal areas in your stomach on the X-rays. Learn more about our imaging technology.
How Is Stomach Cancer Treated?
Most people with gastric cancer have the tumor surgically removed. For cancer that has spread, you may need other treatments, too. Your care may include:
A procedure called a gastrectomy treats cancer by removing part or all of the stomach. If surgeons remove your entire stomach, they will connect your esophagus to your small intestine during the procedure.
Depending on your situation, you may be able to have a minimally invasive gastrectomy. These surgeries use smaller incisions so you have less pain and a faster recovery. Meet our doctors >
Chemotherapy is a medical treatment that floods your body with cancer-killing medicines. Your team may deliver traditional chemotherapy via infusion (through an IV) or orally (by mouth).
Your treatment might include hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemoperfusion (HIPEC), which can be more effective than other chemotherapies for stomach cancer. HIPEC bathes your abdominal cavity in a chemotherapy solution immediately after surgery to destroy as many cancer cells as possible.
UCLA is one of only a few centers in our region to offer intraperitoneal chemotherapy.
Sometimes, cancer is too advanced for surgical removal. In these cases, your doctor may recommend radiation therapy to try to reduce the size of the tumor and help you feel more comfortable. Read more about radiation oncology.
Multiple clinical trials are studying new ways to treat stomach cancer. These potential treatments include:
- Targeted therapies, which block gene changes in cancer cells
- Chemoradiation, which uses chemotherapy and radiation at the same time
- Precision medicine, which uses your DNA to find the best treatment for you
To schedule an appointment with the UCLA Gastrointestinal Oncology Program, please call the UCLA Cancer Hotline at 888-ONC-UCLA (888-662-8252) Monday through Friday, 9am to 5pm, or our Physician Referral Service at 1-800-UCLA-MD1 (310-825-2631).