What Is Metastatic Stomach Cancer?

Metastatic stomach cancer may bring symptoms similar to other stomach problems, including cramps, loss of appetite and nausea.
An illustration of a human stomach.
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  • Written By: D. Jeffress
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 06 July 2014
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Metastatic stomach cancer is a very serious, quickly spreading malignancy. Due to the location and nature of the cancer, it is very likely to metastasize to other parts of the digestive tract, the liver, and lymph nodes. Symptoms may be similar to other stomach problems and can include cramps, loss of appetite, fatigue, and nausea. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to reduce the risks of widespread metastasis and potentially fatal complications. Patients typically need a combination of surgery and chemotherapy to combat this type of cancer.

Many different factors can increase a person's risk of metastatic stomach cancer. Severe, chronic Helicobacter pylori bacterial infections that cause major damage and ulcers in stomach tissue often precede tumors, for example. People who are frequently sick with other digestive disorders may also be at an increased risk. Other factors may include smoking, alcohol abuse, obesity, and lack of regular exercise. In addition, there is some evidence to suggest that stomach cancer can have a genetic component that is passed down through families.

In most cases, metastatic stomach cancer begins in the innermost mucus lining of the organ. As a tumor starts to grow, cancer can quickly invade deeper layers of muscle tissue. Metastasis to the abdominal cavity, esophagus, intestines, liver, and pancreas can occur in a matter of months. The lymph nodes are also highly susceptible to metastasizing stomach cancer.

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Metastatic stomach cancer is unlikely to cause major symptoms in its early stages, and many patients are not diagnosed until significant metastasis has already occurred. Possible early symptoms include abdominal pain and cramps, problems swallowing food, and loss of appetite. A person may start to have frequent episodes of nausea and vomiting, feel weak most of the time, and lose a significant amount of weight in a short period of time. As cancer continues to spread, other symptoms can present, such as muscle aches, joint pain, lymph node swelling, and extreme fatigue.

Several tests are needed when a doctor suspects stomach cancer, including imaging scans and endoscopy. Treatment decisions are made based on the stage of the initial tumor and the degree and location of metastasis. If a small, isolated tumor is discovered, it can often be removed surgically. A large portion of the stomach may need to be excised to get rid of a larger, spreading tumor. Metastasis to other organs may require additional surgeries, chemotherapy, and radiation treatments.

Despite aggressive treatment efforts, metastatic stomach cancer generally has a poor prognosis. People who know they are at risk because of their family histories or lifestyles may be able to prevent future problems by informing their doctors and scheduling regular checkups. The earlier cancer is detected, the better the chances of survival and recovery.

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