The information on this page was reviewed and approved by
Maurie Markman, MD, President, Medicine & Science at CTCA.

This page was updated on September 21, 2021.

Symptoms of stomach cancer

Most patients with early-stage stomach cancer have no symptoms of the disease. In other cases, stomach cancer patients may mistake their symptoms for a common stomach virus. When the signs and symptoms of stomach cancer are not apparent, the disease may reach advanced stages before a diagnosis is made. That’s why it is important that patients considered high risk talk to their doctors about symptoms that may be signs of a stomach tumor.

Early warning signs of stomach cancer

Early signs of stomach cancer may include:

  • Feeling full: Many stomach cancer patients experience a sense of "fullness" in the upper abdomen after eating small meals.
  • Heartburn: Indigestion, heartburn or symptoms similar to an ulcer may be signs of a stomach tumor.
  • Nausea and vomiting: Some stomach cancer patients have symptoms that include nausea and vomiting. Sometimes, the vomit contains blood.

Other common symptoms of cancers that develop in the stomach may include:

  • Unexplained weight loss: Lack of appetite or unexplained weight loss is a common sign of cancer.
  • Stomach pain: Abdominal discomfort or pain in the abdomen above the navel may be a symptom of a stomach tumor. Also, swelling or fluid build-up in the abdomen may also be caused by stomach cancer.

Most of the time, stomach cancer isn’t the reason for these symptoms—these are common discomforts that may be triggered by conditions such as an ulcer or a stomach virus, or even a heavy meal. Since many early-stage symptoms may easily be ignored or attributed to a more common cause, catching stomach cancer before it advances may be challenging.

Anyone experiencing early-stage stomach cancer symptoms that lack a known cause, or that seem to be worsening is urged to make a doctor’s appointment. Whether the symptoms are due to stomach cancer or something else, doctors may help identify the problem and treat it properly.

Advanced symptoms of stomach cancer

As the cancer grows larger and spreads beyond the stomach, it may start causing more noticeable symptoms. The signs and symptoms of more advanced stomach cancer may include:

  • Blood in the stool
  • Vomiting
  • Unexplained and unintentional weight loss
  • Belly pain
  • Jaundice (yellowing of eyes and skin)
  • Buildup of fluid, or swelling, in the abdominal area
  • Difficulty swallowing

Stomach cancer screening

Stomach cancer is difficult to treat because it’s often already advanced by the time it’s diagnosed. U.S. medical organizations don’t recommend routine screenings for most people, as is the case with other types of cancer such as breast cancer or colon cancer.

However, people who face an increased risk may want to consider screening for stomach cancer. In some cases, screening may help detect cancer in the early stages, when it may be easier to treat.

Though more clinical trial research is necessary to determine the benefits of screening, according to the National Cancer Institute, screening may be beneficial for people with the following factors that increase their risk of developing stomach cancer:

  • Older people who have chronic gastric atrophy or pernicious anemia
  • People who have surgery to remove part of their stomach (partial gastrectomy)
  • People who have a history of stomach polyps
  • People with familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP)
  • People with hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC)
  • People whose country of origin has higher rates of stomach cancer

Additional factors that may increase the risk of developing stomach cancer include:

  • Having a history of the helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) stomach infection, intestinal metaplasia or Epstein-Barr virus
  • Eating a diet high in salted, smoked foods and low in fruits and vegetables
  • Eating foods that are improperly or unsafely prepared or stored
  • Being older
  • Being male
  • Smoking
  • Having an immediate family member with stomach cancer

Patients should ask their doctor about all the risk factors to determine whether screening is appropriate for them.

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