Stomach (Gastric) Cancer

Imaging of stomach tumorStomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, refers to cancer that begins in the mucus-producing cells on the inside lining of your stomach. Stomach cancer is uncommon in the United States, and the number of people diagnosed each year is declining.

At the Abramson Cancer Center, we are experts in the diagnosis, treatment and research of stomach cancer. Our unique approach provides the best possible outcomes and gives you access to the most advanced treatment, surgical techniques and clinical trials — many available only at Penn Medicine.

Types of Stomach Cancer

Your stomach has five parts — cardia, fundus, corpus, antrum and pylorus — and is between your esophagus and your small intestine. The first three parts of your stomach (cardia, fundus and corpus) make up your proximal stomach, while the lower two parts (antrum and pylorus) make up your distal stomach.

Your stomach also has five layers:

  • Mucosa, the inner layer that lines your stomach. Most stomach cancers begin in this layer.
  • Submucosa, the support tissue for the inner layer.
  • Muscle layer, the muscles of your stomach.
  • Subserosa, the support tissue for the outer layer.
  • Serosa or outer layer, the outer lining of your stomach.

Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of stomach cancer, comprising about 90 percent of cases. Adenocarcinoma starts in the mucosa.

There are other types of stomach cancer, though they are more uncommon. They include:

  • Carcinoid tumors, a subset of neuroendocrine tumors (NETs) that begin in the hormone-making cells of the stomach.
  • Gastrointestinal Stromal Tumors (GISTs), rare tumors that can form in the gastrointestinal tract, including the stomach.
  • Leiomyosarcoma, a type of soft tissue sarcoma that can be found in the stomach.
  • Lymphoma, cancers of the immune system that sometimes are found in the stomach.

Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer is a slow-growing cancer and is often without symptoms (asymptomatic) in its earliest stages. Symptoms of stomach cancer may include the following, which are also associated with many more common causes:

  • Bloated abdomen after eating
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling of fullness after eating even small amounts of food
  • Heartburn
  • Indigestion
  • Nausea
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Vomiting
  • Weight loss without trying

Diagnosing Stomach Cancer

If your doctor suspects that you might have stomach cancer, you may undergo diagnostic testing, including an upper endoscopy. During an upper endoscopy, a thin tube containing a camera is passed down your throat and into your stomach. If abnormalities are identified, your stomach tissue will be biopsied for analysis by a pathologist.

Imaging tests, including CT scans and an X-ray exam called a barium swallow, may also be used to detect stomach cancer.

Navigating Stomach Cancer Care

Each step of your stomach cancer diagnosis, treatment and management comes with different needs and issues that should be addressed.

Our oncology nurse navigators are experts in complex health care situations. They are committed to making sure you are as comfortable as possible while at Penn Medicine.

Oncology navigation specialists will also serve as a consistent point of contact and a reliable source for advice, support and direction for you and your family.