Stomach Cancer Overview

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Early Detection, Diagnosis, and Staging TOPICS

Staging for stomach cancer

The stage of a cancer describes how far the cancer has spread. This is very important because the treatment and the outlook for your recovery depend on the stage of the cancer.

There are really 2 types of stages for stomach cancer. The stage of a stomach cancer can be based either on the results of physical exams and tests (this is called the clinical stage), or on the results of these tests plus the results of surgery (called the pathologic stage). Pathologic staging is likely to be more accurate than clinical staging because it allows the surgeon to see the extent of the cancer.

After stage 0 (cancer that has not grown beyond the inner layer of cells that line the stomach), stages are labeled using Roman numerals I through IV (1-4). As a rule, the lower the number, the less the cancer has spread. A higher number, such as stage IV (4), means a more advanced cancer. Ask your doctor to explain what the stage of your cancer means in your case.

Resectable or unresectable cancer

For practical reasons, doctors often divide stomach cancers into 2 groups. Resectable cancers are those the doctor thinks can be completely removed during surgery. Unresectable cancers are those that can’t be completely removed. This might be because the tumor has grown into nearby organs or lymph nodes. Or it may have grown too close to major blood vessels, or has spread to distant parts of the body, or the person is not healthy enough for surgery. Earlier stage cancers are more likely to be resectable.


Last Medical Review: 03/18/2013
Last Revised: 02/11/2014