Screening, Diagnosis and Treatment Options
Screening and Diagnosis: Get Checked
If your doctor suspects stomach cancer, he can run a few tests to check for it. Be sure to tell him about any medications you're taking and about any general changes to your health or your personal life. All of these factors could play a role in the symptoms you're experiencing. Tests you may undergo include:
- CT scans: Your doctor will take computer topography (CT) scans of your abdomen. This will help him see any tumors that may be problematic.
- Upper GI series: You'll be asked not to eat for several hours before this series of x-rays. Right before the test, you'll be given two liquids to drink. The first is carbonated and will help the stomach expand. The second is a contrast agent, often containing barium salt. This liquid will help the doctor see abnormalities in the stomach.
- Upper endoscopy: Before this test, you will be told not to eat for several hours. You'll be given sedation through an IV, so you will be more comfortable. Your doctor will use a tiny camera that is contained inside a thin tube. The tube will be inserted in your throat, you'll be told to swallow, and the tube will continue to your stomach, where it takes pictures. If you doctor sees any suspicious areas, he can collect a tissue sample for biopsy.
During this process, you will be referred to a medical oncologist. If you are diagnosed with stomach cancer, your doctor will use other tests to determine how advanced the cancer is. In addition to x-rays and CT scans, he may do exploratory surgery, so he can clearly see how far the cancer has spread. The states of stomach cancer are described this way:
- Stage I: The cancer is limited primarily to the stomach lining.
- Stage II: The cancer has spread into the stomach muscle and possibly to nearby lymph nodes.
- Stage III: The cancerous cells have spread throughout the stomach and lymph nodes.
- Stage IV: The cancer has spread beyond the stomach and to other areas of the body.
Treatment: Get Better
Once you get a stomach cancer diagnosis, you may be scared. You may feel overwhelmed with information and treatment options, and you may not know what to do next. First, take a deep breath. Second, make a list of questions you have. Find time to sit with your doctor and ask all the questions you have. Be sure to bring along a friend or family member who can offer support and help you understand all the details.
Depending on what stage your cancer is in, there are a few different treatment options:
- Surgery: For stomach cancer, the main treatment is surgery to remove the affected parts of the organ. Based on how far the cancer has spread, your doctor will recommend different procedures. Types of surgical procedures include:
- Endoscopy: the doctor will insert a thin tube that contains a camera down your throat and to the stomach. Using the camera's images as guidance, he can remove early-stage tumors and a small amount of surrounding tissue.
- Subtotal gastrectomy: a surgeon will remove the part of the stomach that has been affected.
- Total gastrectomy: this involves removing the entire stomach. Then your esophagus will be connected to your small intestine. If all or part of your stomach is removed, you may experience digestive problems afterward. These include vomiting, nausea, and diarrhea.
- Chemotherapy: This treatment may be used in conjunction with surgery. Or it may be used alone if the cancer is very advanced. Chemotherapy delivers cancer-killing drugs either in pill form or by IV. Usually, it is administered in cycles, so your body has time to recover in between treatments. Most patients experience fatigue and nausea after chemotherapy. Some people also lose their hair, but as the treatments end, the symptoms dissipate and hair grows back.
- Radiation: Radiation therapy uses high-energy x-rays to pinpoint your cancer cells and destroy them. Sometimes it is used in conjunction with chemotherapy and surgery. Before surgery, radiation can help shrink cancer cells. After surgery, it may be used to kill cancer cells that remain. When you undergo radiation therapy, you may feel tired or nauseated, but these symptoms improve once the treatment is over.
- Manage symptoms: If your cancer is very advanced and cannot be fully treated, a surgeon will remove parts of growing tumors to make you more comfortable.
Follow-up: Keep Watch
In the months and years after you cancer diagnosis, you need to take good care of yourself. Keep an eye out for any recurring symptoms and talk to your doctor if you experience any of these:
- Constant heartburn or indigestion
- Blood in your stool
- Nausea and vomiting
As you recover, be sure to spend time with those who are close to you. Remain as active as you can, and join a support group. Sharing your story with others will help remind you that you are not alone. Never hesitate to accept help and encouragement from those around you.
For more information on stomach cancer care and screenings at St. Anthony’s Hospital Cancer Center, please call (727) 825-1253.
St. Anthony's Cancer Center
1201 5th Ave. N., Suite 130
St. Petersburg, FL 33705
Phone: (727) 825-1253
Fax: (727) 825-1332