Stomach & Gastric Cancer | MedStar Health

Stomach, or gastric, cancer develops when a tumor grows in the stomach. Stomach cancer can be serious and is a common cause of death worldwide. Fortunately, rates of stomach cancer in the United States are falling.

Our approach

We believe that a multidisciplinary approach is the best way to treat patients with stomach cancer. Our team includes experts from a wide range of fields, including:

  • Gastroenterologists

  • Fellowship-trained surgical oncologists

  • Medical oncologists

  • Radiation therapists

  • Pathologists

  • Radiologists

  • Nurse navigators

Working as a true team, we meet regularly to discuss each of our patients in great detail so we can develop and manage the best treatment plans. As a patient, you benefit from the variety of experience and talent we bring together.

Risk factors

A risk factor increases your chances of developing a disease. The risk factors for stomach cancer include:

  • Presence of H. pylori: These stomach-dwelling bacteria can be treated with antibiotics. While not everyone who develops stomach cancer has H. pylori bacteria, those who do may be at increased risk.

  • Gender: Men are more likely than women to develop stomach cancer.

  • Pernicious anemia: A severe lack of red blood cells can lead to stomach cancer.

  • Absence of acid production: Lack of sufficient acid in the stomach can contribute to the development of stomach cancer.

  • Gastric polyps: Certain types of gastric polyps are more likely to develop into cancer.

  • Smoking: People who smoke increase their risk for developing stomach cancer. 

  • Alcohol consumption: People who drink heavily increase their risk for developing stomach cancer.

  • Certain inherited diseases: Diseases such as hereditary non-polyposis colon cancer (HNPCC) may be associated with stomach cancer.


  • Abdominal pain

  • Heartburn

  • Nausea

  • Vomiting

  • Weight loss

  • Feeling full after small meals

These symptoms are similar to those of acid reflux. If you experience any of these, consult with your primary care doctor.


If you may have stomach cancer, your primary care physician will recommend that you meet with a gastroenterologist or surgical oncologist. Our team of gastroenterologists and surgical oncologists take great care to make an accurate diagnosis for each patient and carefully evaluate any symptoms with the following diagnostic tools and procedures:

  • Medical history: We will ask you about your background, previous surgeries, and any family history of stomach cancer.

  • Physical examination: We will perform a detailed physical examination to determine whether you have a stomach tumor and if it has spread anywhere else in your body. This exam may include any of the following tests and procedures:

    • Biopsy: This procedure allows your surgeon to carefully examine the cells of the tumor under a microscope to determine whether it is cancerous.

    • Endoscopy: In this procedure, your gastroenterologist will place an endoscope, which is a thin camera with a special light, into your stomach. With the endoscope, your surgical oncologist can locate the tumor and remove cells from it for a biopsy.

    • Endoscopic ultrasound: This is a specialized test that gastroenterologists use to determine specific details about the tumor, including how thick it is and whether the cancer is spreading to nearby lymph nodes.

    • CT scan: These are tests your gastroenterologist uses to create a computerized picture of other organs, such as your liver and lungs, to determine if your stomach cancer is spreading.

    • Laparoscopy: If your gastroenterologist determines that you have a stomach tumor, he or she will refer you to a surgical oncologist for further evaluation. The surgical oncologist will place a special camera in the abdomen to inspect the entire area for cancer through a surgical procedure called a laparoscopy. Laparoscopy determines whether the cancer is spreading and helps avoid additional surgical procedures.


Your physician team, which includes a medical oncologist, radiation therapist, and surgical oncologist, will carefully evaluate your condition and determine the most effective form of treatment for you.

  • Surgery: After diagnosing your stomach cancer, and determining that it has not spread to other organs, your surgical oncologist will likely recommend that you have surgery. The extent of the surgery will depend on where your tumor is located and whether it has spread to the surrounding lymph nodes. Surgery generally involves removing part or all of the stomach as well as affected lymph nodes.

  • Chemotherapy: Major studies suggest that chemotherapy either with or without radiation may add to the benefits of surgery. Chemotherapy, which is cancer medication that you receive through your veins, can attack tumor cells in the body that surgery and imaging cannot detect. Your physician team will carefully evaluate the most effective form of treatment for you. 

  • Post-surgical Care: Your team will monitor your progress every three months for the first two years following stomach cancer surgery. We will repeat your endoscopy and CT scan to make sure the cancer is not coming back. We also encourage patients to meet with our nutritionist, who will help you understand any necessary changes in your diet following your treatment, and our social worker, who will help you manage any other needs and concerns before, during, and after your treatment.

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Additional information

Awards & Recognitions

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The MedStar Georgetown University Hospital Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center is the only National Cancer Institute (NCI)-designated comprehensive cancer center in the Washington, D.C., region.