Stomach Cancer

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Treating Stomach Cancer TOPICS

Treatment choices by type and stage of stomach cancer

Treatment of stomach cancer depends to a large degree on where the cancer started in the stomach and how far it has spread.

Stage 0

Because stage 0 cancers are limited to the inner lining layer of the stomach and have not grown into deeper layers, they can be treated by surgery alone. No chemotherapy or radiation therapy is needed.

Surgery with either subtotal gastrectomy (removal of part of the stomach) or total gastrectomy (removal of the entire stomach) is often the main treatment for these cancers. Nearby lymph nodes are removed as well.

Some small stage 0 cancers can be treated by endoscopic resection. In this procedure the cancer is removed through an endoscope passed down the throat. This is done more often in Japan, where stomach cancer is often detected early during screening. It is rare to find stomach cancer so early in the United States, so this treatment has not been used as much here. If it is done, it should be at a cancer center that has a great deal of experience with this technique.

Stage I

Stage IA: People with stage IA stomach cancer typically have their cancer removed by total or subtotal gastrectomy. The nearby lymph nodes are also removed. Endoscopic resection may rarely be an option for some small T1a cancers. No further treatment is usually needed after surgery.

Stage IB: The main treatment for this stage of stomach cancer is surgery (total or subtotal gastrectomy). Chemotherapy (chemo) or chemoradiation (chemo plus radiation therapy) may be given before surgery to try to shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove.

After surgery, patients whose lymph nodes (removed at surgery) show no signs of cancer spread are sometimes observed without further treatment, but often doctors will recommend treatment with either chemoradiation or chemo alone after surgery (especially if the patient didn’t get one of these before surgery). Patients who were treated with chemo before surgery may get the same chemo (without radiation) after surgery.

If cancer is found in the lymph nodes, treatment with either chemoradiation, chemo alone, or a combination of the two is often recommended.

If a person is too sick (from other illnesses) to have surgery, they may be treated with chemoradiation if they can tolerate it. Other options include radiation therapy or chemo alone.

Stage II

The main treatment for stage II stomach cancer is surgery to remove all or part of the stomach, the omentum, and nearby lymph nodes. Many patients are treated with chemo or chemoradiation before surgery to try to shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove. Treatment after surgery may include chemo alone or chemoradiation.

If a person is too sick (from other illnesses) to have surgery, they may be treated with chemoradiation if they can tolerate it. Other options include radiation therapy or chemo alone.

Stage III

Surgery is the main treatment for patients with this stage disease (unless they have other medical conditions that make them too ill for it). Some patients may be cured by surgery (along with other treatments), while for others the surgery may be able to help control the cancer or help relieve symptoms.

Some people may get chemo or chemoradiation before surgery to try to shrink the cancer and make it easier to remove. Patients who get chemo before surgery will probably get chemo after, as well. For patients who don’t get chemo before surgery and for those who have surgery but have some cancer left behind, treatment after surgery is usually chemoradiation.

If a person is too sick (from other illnesses) to have surgery, they may be treated with chemoradiation if they can tolerate it. Other options include radiation therapy or chemo alone.

Stage IV

Because stage IV stomach cancer has spread to distant organs, a cure is usually not possible. But treatment can often help keep the cancer under control and help relieve symptoms. This might include surgery, such as a gastric bypass or even a subtotal gastrectomy in some cases, to keep the stomach and/or intestines from becoming blocked (obstructed) or to control bleeding.

In some cases, a laser beam directed through an endoscope (a long, flexible tube passed down the throat) can destroy most of the tumor and relieve obstruction without surgery. If needed, a stent (a hollow metal tube) may be placed where the esophagus and stomach meet to help keep it open and allow food to pass through it. This can also be done at the junction of the stomach and the small intestine.

Chemo and/or radiation therapy can often help shrink the cancer and relieve some symptoms as well as help patients live longer, but is usually not expected to cure the cancer. Combinations of chemo drugs are most commonly used, but which combination is best is not clear.

Targeted therapy can also be helpful in treating advanced cancers. Trastuzumab (Herceptin) can be added to chemotherapy for patients whose tumors are HER2-positive. Ramucirumab (Cyramza) may also be an option at some point. It can be given by itself or added to chemo.

Because these cancers can be hard to treat, new treatments being tested in clinical trials may benefit some patients.

Even if treatments do not destroy or shrink the cancer, there are ways to relieve pain and symptoms from the disease. Patients should tell their cancer care team about any symptoms or pain they have right way, so they can be managed effectively.

Nutrition is another concern for many patients with stomach cancer. Help is available ranging from nutritional counseling to placement of a tube into the small intestine to help provide nutrition for those who have trouble eating, if needed.

Recurrent cancer

Cancer that comes back after initial treatment is known as recurrent cancer. Treatment options for recurrent disease are generally the same as they are for stage IV cancers. But they also depend on where the cancer recurs, what treatments a person has already had, and the person’s general health.

Clinical trials or newer treatments may be an option and should always be considered.


Last Medical Review: 05/20/2014
Last Revised: 11/05/2014