A diagnosis of stomach cancer means you will be faced with a number of decisions about treatments. Make sure you have as much information as possible to make good decisions about the best treatment for you and your health.
In this section, we’ll look at the different treatments available for stomach cancer, including:
Your treatment options will vary depending on the type, size and location of the tumour, as well as your overall health. Remember each person is different and your doctor will discuss with you the best treatment options for the particular type of cancer you have.
Treatment for stomach cancer usually involves surgery to remove the tumour or cancerous cells. This may be all you need if you have early stage stomach cancer, however if the cancer has spread, treatments may include a combination of surgery, radiotherapy, chemotherapy and other targeted medications known as biological therapy.
Surgery for stomach cancer aims to remove as much of the tumour or cancerous cells as possible. The extent of surgery will depend on the type and size of the tumour.
Surgery will involve either the removal or all or part of the stomach. The removal of only part of the stomach is known as a partial gastrectomy and will make eating easier after surgery.
A total gastrectomy is the removal of the entire stomach.
The length of time it takes to recover from surgery will vary. Surgery for stomach cancer is a major operation so you’ll be in hospital for a while and you’ll need to take things easy once you get home.
Radiation therapy is sometimes used in people with stomach cancer. Radiation therapy uses high energy x-ray beams to kill the cancer cells and is delivered by a special machine which directs the x-ray beams to the tumour site.
Radiation therapy for stomach cancer can be given before surgery, after surgery and in those with advanced disease to slow tumour growth and reduce certain symptoms.
Treatment is generally given every day for a period of weeks.
As with any treatment, you may experience side-effects during radiation therapy. Side-effects may affect you no matter which area of the body you’re having radiotherapy to. Some side-effects are more common than others. These can include:
- Skin irritation
- Feeling sick (nausea or vomiting)
- Problems with eating and drinking
- Flu-like symptoms
- Hair loss
If you experience any side-effects during radiation treatment, tell your medical team. They are in the best position to help you manage any side-effects.
Surgery for stomach cancer is often followed by chemotherapy. Chemotherapy medicines work to destroy the cancer cells or control their growth. When you have chemotherapy, you are usually given a combination of two or more medicines intravenously (through the vein). Chemotherapy is most commonly given every three to four weeks over a period of several months.
Chemotherapy kills rapidly growing cells like cancer cells, but can also kill other healthy cells, such as those in the bone marrow, digestive tract and hair follicles. Chemotherapy treatment can lead to a number of side-effects, including:
- Feeling sick (nausea and vomiting)
- Hair loss
- Tiredness (fatigue)
- Increased risk of infection.
If you’re experiencing side-effects as a result of chemotherapy, speak to your medical team about the best way to manage these. There are medicines that can be used to effectively control or minimise side-effects.
- Ministry of Health. 2014. Cancer: New registrations and deaths 2011. Wellington: Ministry of Health. Available from: http://www.health.govt.nz/system/files/documents/publications/cancer-new-registrations-deaths-2011-v4sept14.pdf . Accessed April 2015.
- Biggar M, et al. Gastric cancer location and histological subtype in Pacific people and Maori defies international trends. NZ Med J 2011;124:39–44.