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Signs of Stomach Cancer: Gut Feelings Aren’t Always Right

Signs of Stomach Cancer: Gut Feelings Aren’t Always Right

When we think of cancer, typically lung or breast cancer immediately come to mind. It’s hard to mistake a hard lump or an inverted nipple in the case of breast cancer. However, when it comes to other cancers, the signs may not be so clear– stomach cancer is a good example. Stomach pain can mean anything from a bit of stage fright to a bad meal to peptic ulcer disease (PUD). Before you self-diagnose, learn which signs of stomach cancer are unique and which overlap with other diseases.

Shared signs and symptoms of stomach diseases

Pain

Firstly, pain is a non-specific symptom of many diseases and conditions. Furthermore, pain is subjective as each person has their own level of tolerance. Generally, stomach pain is felt in the upper-left portion of the abdomen.

However, the pain can radiate upward toward the area of the heart, commonly called “heartburn”. The stomach itself does not have pain receptors, however, the nerves around it are sensitive to stretch and pain.

Distention (stretching), after eating too much or when gas builds up in the stomach, causes discomfort but not severe pain. Indigestion is another term for this feeling. On the other hand, ulceration and perforation of the stomach can feel like a dull or gnawing pain. This often occurs in PUD.

Pain alone is not one of the most useful signs of stomach cancer because it can easily mimic these diseases. However, more advanced stages of stomach cancer may present with more severe pain.

Trouble swallowing

Next, for people with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), acid from the stomach travels up the esophagus and damages the tissue along the way.

If GERD is not managed well, they can experience trouble swallowing or dysphagia. Dysphagia also occurs in people who have stomach cancer, depending on the size and location of the tumor growth.

Loss of appetitesigns of stomach cancer

Lastly, the inability to eat or loss of appetite is another one of the shared signs of stomach cancer and other diseases. This is common when someone has the stomach flu or gastroenteritis. Aside from gastrointestinal diseases, infections caused by the flu or other pathogen typically cause loss of appetite.

Loss of appetite can be due to chemical signals, decreased sense of taste and smell, or as a result of vomiting. Nausea and vomiting can make food seem unappealing.

While loss of appetite can be a sign of stomach cancer, it can also be a sign of any other cancer. This is especially true during and after chemotherapy.

Warning signs of stomach cancer

Unexplained weight losssigns of stomach cancer

For many people, losing a few pounds on the scale is something to be proud of. However, if you are losing significant weight without diet or exercise, it is often a bad sign.

Other stomach diseases can trigger vomiting and diarrhea, which leads to less nutrient absorption and more dehydration. You may drop a few pounds, mainly due to water-loss but it quickly returns once your body starts recovering.

However, significant weight loss is defined as losing 10 pounds (4.5 kilograms) or more in the span of 6 to 12 months. While unexplained weight loss is a sign of most cancers, higher weight loss is possibly one of the signs of stomach cancer.

This is because the stomach is an essential organ when it comes to digesting food. Therefore, any cancer here can severely affect your nutrition and weight.

Vomiting bloodsigns of stomach cancer

As mentioned previously, vomiting is a common sign of many GI diseases. Vomiting can even occur due to anxiety or nervousness. Generally, the contents of the vomitus are stomach acid, water, and food particles.

Severe cases of PUD and GERD may have reddish streaks or “coffee ground” vomit. However, large amounts of red or brownish vomit may be a stronger indication of stomach cancer.

Weakness and fatigue

Last, but not least, severe weakness and fatigue are two signs of stomach cancer. Weakness and fatigue are common with other types of cancers and chronic diseases.

However, when coupled with the other warning signs, it can point more toward stomach cancer. Because food intake and nutrition are more affected in stomach cancer, weakness and fatigue may be felt earlier on or be more severe. Anemia may also be a cause of weakness and fatigue.

Key takeaways

In summary, the signs of stomach cancer can be misleading at times. Due to the lower incidence of this type of cancer, other causes of stomach pain and nausea have to be considered first.

For people who currently have GERD, PUD, or gastroenteritis, there is no need to worry about stomach cancer unless you are experiencing unexplained weight loss or excessive bleeding.

Learn more about stomach cancer here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Are My Symptoms Indicating Stomach Cancer or Something Else? https://moffitt.org/cancers/stomach-gastric-cancer/faqs Accessed April 4, 2021

Stomach Cancer https://rarediseases.org/rare-diseases/stomach-cancer/ Accessed April 4, 2021

Stomach Cancer: Symptoms and Signs https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/stomach-cancer/symptoms-and-signs Accessed April 4, 2021

Abdominal Pain https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK412/ Accessed April 4, 2021

Stomach cancer statistics https://www.wcrf.org/dietandcancer/cancer-trends/stomach-cancer-statistics Accessed April 4, 2021

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Written by Stephanie Nicole G. Nera, RPh, PharmD on Apr 06
Medically reviewed by Dr. John Paul Abrina, M.D.
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