The stomach is a muscular sack-like organ that receives and stores food from the oesophagus. With the help of gastric juices that are released from glands in the inner lining of the stomach, the stomach breaks down food into a thick liquid. Once the food is broken down, it is passed from the stomach to the small bowel, where nutrients are absorbed into the bloodstream. There are several different types of stomach cancer:

  • Adenocarcinomas: about 90% of stomach cancers develop in the cells that line the inside surface of the stomach and are called gastric adenocarcinomas.
  • Lymphomas: cancer of specialised cells that are part of the immune system. These can arise in the stomach or other parts of the digestive tract.
  • Gastro-Intestinal Stromal Tumours (GISTs): cancer arising from pacemaker cells that control stomach wall muscle contractions. GISTs can also develop in other parts of the digestive tract but most frequently occur in the stomach.
  • Carcinoid tumours (also known as neuroendocrine tumours or NETs): cancer of hormone-producing cells. These can arise in the stomach as well as in other parts of the digestive tract.

Stomach cancer is usually diagnosed by endoscopy, where a flexible tube with a camera on the end is passed down from the mouth, and samples of tissue, called biopsies, are taken and sent to the lab for testing. Other tests used to help with the diagnosis include barium x-rays and CT scans.

  • Treatment

    The treatment of stomach cancer depends on its site within the stomach, the stage of the cancer (how advanced it is at the time of diagnosis), the type of cancer, and whether the person is otherwise medically fit. Surgery to remove part or all of the stomach is the most common treatment, but radiotherapy and chemotherapy may also be used. These treatments are sometimes used in combination. The prognosis after treatment depends on the stage and the treatment given. In the best circumstances, cure is possible. If cure is not possible, the symptoms caused by the cancer can often be alleviated.

  • Symptoms

    Stomach cancer symptoms vary widely and include:

    • a painful or burning sensation in the abdomen
    • heartburn or indigestion (dyspepsia)
    • a sense of fullness, even after a small meal
    • nausea and/or vomiting
    • loss of appetite and/or weight loss
    • swelling of the abdomen
    • unexplained tiredness or weakness
    • blood in vomit
    • black-coloured faeces

    The symptoms of stomach cancer are often vague and non-specific. They are often subtle and occur in other medical conditions apart from stomach cancer, making them difficult to link to stomach cancer.

  • NZ statistics

    More than 400 people in New Zealand are diagnosed with stomach cancer each year. This includes a small number of people with gastro-intestinal stromal tumours (GIST) and neuroendocrine tumours (NETs). NETs are found in the stomach but can appear elsewhere in the digestive system.

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