Skip to main content
Explore URMC

Wilmot Cancer Institute Logo

menu

Overview

Stomach cancer is also called gastric cancer. It often starts in the inner-most layer of the stomach wall called the mucosa. Some people refer to the entire region between the chest and pelvis as the stomach, but the stomach is a small organ about the size of a fist located in the upper abdomen that initially holds food and liquids and begins the digestive process.

Stomach malignancies are in a group known as gastrointestinal (GI) cancers, and Wilmot offers the largest team of GI specialists in the Finger Lakes region. Wilmot also offers the most advanced treatments and technology— and we are the primary center in upstate New York with the expertise to perform stomach cancer operations.

Stomach cancer types

  • Adenocarcinoma is the most common, comprising 90% to 95% of stomach cancers.
  • Lymphoma, a cancer of the immune system, can be found in the wall of the stomach, although this is unusual.
  • Carcinoid tumors, which are rare, start in the cells that make hormones in the stomach.
  • Squamous cell carcinoma, small cell carcinoma, and leiomyosarcoma are very rare and can start in the stomach.

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GIST) are another type of cancer found in the digestive system. Most are discovered in the stomach, although they can grow anywhere in the gastrointestinal tract. Wilmot has an excellent program to treat GIST, offering genetic testing and targeted drug therapies such as Gleevec, to eligible patients.

Stomach cancer facts

About 25,000 cases are diagnosed annually in the U.S. Until the 1930s, stomach cancer was a leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S., but the death rate has dropped significantly due to better refrigeration for food storage and less consumption of salted or smoked foods. Stomach cancer is much more common in less-developed countries.

Causes and risk factors

Infection from the bacteria H. pylori is a common cause of stomach cancer. Older age is also a risk factor, and the average lifetime risk of developing stomach cancer is 1 in 111. Men are twice as likely as women to get it.

Other risk factors include:

  • Certain subtypes of the H. pylori bacteria, which cause changes in the DNA of the cells in the stomach lining. Long-term infection with this germ can also lead to inflammation and precancerous changes in the stomach lining.
  • Ethnicity. Hispanic Americans, African Americans, and Asian/Pacific Islanders get stomach cancer more often than whites.
  • Living in Japan, China, Southern and Eastern Europe, and South and Central America.
  • Diet. Eating highly salted, smoked, and pickled meats, fish, and other foods. Nitrates found in cured meats can be converted to H. pylori and other bacteria in the stomach.
  • Tobacco use, which boosts the risk of cancer higher in the stomach near the esophagus.
  • Surgery to treat ulcers or other non-cancer conditions in the stomach because of the levels of acidity and bacteria in the stomach.
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency, also known as pernicious anemia
  • Certain genetic conditions such as a family history of the disease, having Type A blood, or having inherited cancer syndromes such as hereditary diffuse gastric cancer syndrome, which can boost the risk by as much as 70% to 80% over the lifetime; Lynch syndrome, which increases the risk of colorectal and stomach cancer; the breast cancer genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2); or Li-Fraumeni syndrome.

Prevention

There is no sure way to prevent stomach cancer. Research is underway to find out if treating H. pylori infections with antibiotics can reduce pre-cancerous lesions. Taking aspirin or other non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen can reduce the risk. However, taking these medications can cause other problems and should be discussed with a physician.

A dramatic decline in cases during the past several decades also suggests that preserving food in refrigerators instead of by smoking, salting, and pickling is a good strategy. Avoiding cured meats and fish in general, and eating plenty of fruits and vegetables — particularly citrus — is protective.

Clinical trials testing vitamin and mineral supplements and green tea show mixed results. It’s best to maintain good nutrition through foods. Quitting smoking and being physically active might also lower the risk.

In some cases of people who have hereditary diffuse gastric cancer syndrome, many doctors will recommend having the stomach removed to prevent cancer.