Stomach Cancer: First Signs And Early-Stage Symptoms

According to the American Cancer Society, stomach cancer accounts for around 1.5% of new cancer cases¹ in the United States each year.

Stomach cancer was once the leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. It's become much less common in the last few decades, thanks to increased food safety standards and fewer people eating smoked and processed meats. However, there is evidence that roughly 26,000 new cases will be diagnosed this year.

More treatment options are available with early diagnosis. According to the American Cancer Society, the survival rate for localized stomach cancer is 70%.

Understanding the risks and early signs and symptoms of stomach cancer can help improve potential outcomes.

Have you considered clinical trials for Stomach cancer?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Stomach cancer, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

What are the warning signs and early-stage symptoms of stomach cancer?

Early-stage symptoms can include:

  • Sense of fullness after a small meal

  • Mild abdominal discomfort 

  • Unexplained fatigue

  • Indigestion or heartburn

Some early-stage stomach cancer symptoms are similar to those you might experience with a less severe health concern, such as stomach ulcers, celiac disease, or irritable bowel syndrome.

Warning signs that may indicate more advanced stomach cancer include:

  • Significant unexplained weight loss 

  • Nausea and vomiting, especially after eating

  • Trouble swallowing food or drinks

  • Not feeling hungry

  • Blood in your vomit or stool

  • Swelling in the abdomen

  • Stomach pain, especially after eating

When to see a doctor

It's important to remember that while the early signs of stomach cancer are similar to symptoms of less serious health concerns, you shouldn't disregard any symptoms. Making an appointment with a doctor to address your concerns could lead to an earlier diagnosis of a serious illness like stomach cancer. The earlier the diagnosis, the more treatment options you'll have. 

How stomach cancer is diagnosed

If you have any of the early signs of stomach cancer, make an appointment with your doctor. Your doctor will ask you questions about your symptoms and perform a physical examination. They might order tests, such as blood tests, to rule out other stomach issues like ulcers or celiac disease. They may also refer you to a gastroenterologist, a doctor who specializes in the digestive tract.

Your doctor may use a variety of diagnostic tools and methods to diagnose stomach cancer, including:

  • CT scans

  • PET scans

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

  • Upper gastrointestinal biopsy

  • X-rays of the esophagus and stomach

According to the National Cancer Institute,² there are currently no routine screening tests for stomach cancer, though some are in clinical trials. Screenings are most often used in patients with no symptoms but who may be at a higher risk of developing certain types of cancers. However, previous screening trials for stomach cancer found no reduction in the risk of death.

The best method for finding stomach cancer early is to be aware of your risk factors and watch for early warning signs.

Learn more about how stomach cancer is diagnosed here. 

Risk factors for stomach cancer

During an exam, your doctor may ask about your family's health history, your health history, and your lifestyle habits. These factors may increase your risk of developing stomach cancer.

Factors that can increase your risk of developing stomach cancer include:³

  • Your age (you are more at risk the older you get) 

  • Your gender (men are twice as likely⁴ to develop stomach cancer)

  • Your family history (those with first-degree family members who had a stomach cancer diagnosis are also at a higher risk of diagnosis)

  • Certain genetic disorders (e.g., hereditary diffuse gastric cancer)

  • Type A blood

  • Previous stomach surgery (people who had stomach surgery for conditions like ulcers are at an increased risk of developing stomach cancer, which may develop several years after the surgery)

There are also lifestyle choices that could increase your risk of developing stomach cancer:

  • Smoking: Both current and former smokers could be at an increased risk of stomach cancer.

  • Drinking: Consuming high amounts of alcohol could increase your risk. 

  • Diet: Eating large amounts of foods preserved in salt, like smoked, dried, or pickled foods, may increase stomach cancer risk.

  • Weight: Those with excess body weight are at a higher risk, especially in men. 

  • Occupation: Workers in the coal, metal, and rubber industries appear to have a higher risk of getting stomach cancer. 

There is also a bacterium, Helicobacter pylori, which can live in the lining of your stomach. It's usually spread through contaminated food and water. According to the National Cancer Institute, it's a leading cause of stomach ulcers and can also cause the development of stomach cancer. The presence of this bacteria in your stomach or a history of ulcers may also put you in the higher risk category.

How early-stage stomach cancer is treated

Early-stage stomach cancer is classified as cancer that is restricted to the stomach's inner lining. This means that cancer has not grown deeper into the stomach wall or spread beyond the stomach, most commonly spreading to the liver.

These early-stage cancers are most often treated through surgery to remove the cancerous tissue. This may include removing some or all of the stomach. If surgery is deemed successful, patients usually won't require further treatment. However, a doctor may recommend chemotherapy or radiation if it's unclear the cancer is gone.

The lowdown

Stomach cancer is less common in the United States than it used to be, but thousands of people will still be diagnosed this year.

Knowing your risk factors and early-stage stomach cancer symptoms is vital for early diagnosis and key to increasing survival rates and improving outcomes.

If you believe you are at a high risk of developing stomach cancer or are experiencing any of the warning signs of stomach cancer listed above, make an appointment with your doctor.

Have you considered clinical trials for Stomach cancer?

We make it easy for you to participate in a clinical trial for Stomach cancer, and get access to the latest treatments not yet widely available - and be a part of finding a cure.

Joining community groups and exercise programs for my condition made me feel empowered – but I want to be part of finding a cure.
Peter, 64

Join our email list

Want all the latest clinical trial and HealthMatch news in your inbox? We thought you might! Sign up below.