Stomach cancer is diagnosed using a cross analysis of patient medical history, family history, physical exam, symptom observation, imaging tests, and histological (microscopic) examination of cells and tissues.
An in-depth evaluation of these tests and examinations will help physicians and patients better understand the extent, location, and size of the cancer.
Common Diagnostic Tests
- FOBT (Fecal Occult Blood Test): This test is performed to find blood hidden in a patient’s stool. Sometimes, the blood can be seen, but often times it is overlooked or hidden.
- Upper GI Series: An x-ray of the esophagus and stomach. In this procedure, the patient will swallow a substance known as barium, which outlines the gastrointestinal tract in an x-ray. This gives physicians a more precise image of the stomach and esophagus.
- Endoscopy: This procedure allows physicians to examine the esophagus and stomach by using a tube called a gastroscope. A camera on the tip of this scope captures images of the inside of the stomach.
- Biopsy: A biopsy is the removal of cells or tissues (typically with a needle and syringe) to be examined microscopically in a laboratory.
Once a diagnosis is confirmed, the doctor will have to determine how much the cancer has spread to other structures in the body. This is determined by analyzing the results of CAT scan imaging tests or laparoscopy (a minimally invasive surgery that may be used to observe cancers of the abdomen).
Staging is important because it is used to determine a patient’s treatment strategy and prognosis. The lower the stage, the better a patient’s prognosis will be. If cancer is found in its more advanced stages, doctors will have to use different methods of treatment reduce symptoms and reduce the tumorís size.
Stages of Stomach Cancer
- Stage 0: Cancer is located in the closest layer of the stomach wall.
- Stage I: Cancer is located in the second and third layers of the stomach, but has not spread to lymph nodes.
- Stage II: Cancer is located in the third layer of the stomach wall. In this stage, the cancer may be found in all four layers of the stomach, but has not yet spread to lymph nodes or other organs.
- Stage III: Cancer may be located in all four layers of the stomach wall and is metastatic (it has spread to nearby tissues).