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What Is Advanced Stomach Cancer?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 29 October 2016
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Advanced stomach cancer is cancer that has begun to spread beyond the walls of the stomach. To say that a cancer is “advanced” is clinically meaningless because it is not very descriptive term; a doctor will provide information about the stage of the cancer, to indicate precisely how far it has spread. Stomach cancers are often diagnosed in a more advanced stage as patients may experience minimal or vague symptoms when the tumor is isolated to the stomach. As a result, they are harder to treat because the cancerous cells are already growing out of control.

Two common staging systems can more accurately describe the state of a cancer. One grades cancers from zero to five on the basis of their location and level of spread. Higher grades indicate that the cancer has moved beyond the primary organ and into neighboring lymph nodes and organs, and could be considered advanced cancers. If a stomach cancer is stage three or four, a doctor may call it “advanced stomach cancer.” Stage five cancers have spread to remote areas of the body, and are the most advanced.

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The TNM staging system assigns a value on the basis of the characteristics of the tumor, lymph node involvement, and metastases. The higher the values for each letter, the more advanced the cancer. Something like a T4N2M0, for example, would be an advanced cancer because the tumor is invading nearby structures like the lungs and metastasizing to regional lymph nodes, although there are no distant metastases like those seen with end-stage cancers.

Patients with advanced stomach cancer can experience upper abdominal pain, nausea, weight loss, fatigue, and vomiting. In earlier stages the symptoms are often vague, and the patient may not seek medical treatment, or a doctor could miss the signs of stomach cancer and chase down other diagnoses before determining that the patient has a tumor. Diagnosis usually requires medical imaging, blood tests, and a detailed patient interview to collect more information about the symptoms.

Treatments for advanced stomach cancer can include surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation. Patients who need gastric cancer surgery can expect some lifestyle changes because of changes in stomach shape and size. They may need to change eating patterns and could require nutritional supplementation to meet their dietary needs. For an advanced stomach cancer in the end stages, the doctor may recommend palliative care to slow the cancer's growth and control pain, without the goal of curing the cancer.

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