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What Is Stomach (Gastric) Cancer?

Outline of human figure showing esophagus, stomach, and small intestine.

Cancer happens when cells in the body begin changing and multiplying out of control. These cells can form lumps of tissue called tumors. Cancer that forms in the stomach is called stomach or gastric cancer.

Understanding the stomach

The stomach helps the body digest food. When food is swallowed, it travels down a tube called the esophagus. The esophagus ends in the stomach. The stomach adds chemicals and fluids to food that help begin the process of digestion. There is a strong muscle layer of the stomach that mixes the contents to make it soft. Food then leaves the stomach and enters the small intestine.

When stomach cancer forms

In most cases, stomach cancer starts in the stomach’s inner lining, the mucosa. Cancer cells can then spread through the other layers of the stomach. If cancer cells reach the stomach’s outer layer, they can invade nearby organs. Stomach cancer can also spread from the stomach to other parts of the body. This spread is called metastasis. The more cancer spreads, the harder it is to treat.

Treatment choices for stomach cancer

You and your healthcare provider will discuss a treatment plan that’s best for your needs. Treatment choices may include:

  • Surgery to remove the cancerous part of the stomach and some surrounding tissue.

  • Chemotherapy, which uses strong medicines to kill cancer cells.

  • Radiation therapy, which uses directed rays of energy to kill cancer cells.

Online Medical Reviewer: Gersten, Todd, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Stump-Sutliff, Kim, RN, MSN, AOCNS
Last Review Date: 10/1/2016
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