How stomach cancer is diagnosed
Usually, you begin by seeing your GP (family doctor). Sometimes, people are diagnosed with stomach cancer after being admitted to hospital with a symptom that's making them unwell.
At your appointment, the GP will examine you and arrange any tests that you need. If they think your symptoms may be serious, they’ll arrange immediate tests or an urgent referral to a specialist doctor at the hospital. You’ll usually see a doctor called a gastroenterologist. They specialise in treating stomach and digestive problems. The doctor will ask you about your symptoms and your general health before examining you. You may also see a gastrointestinal nurse specialist.
You’ll have blood tests to check your general health and to find out if you’re anaemic. Your doctor will arrange for you to have a test called an endoscopy to look at the inside of your stomach. This is described below. Some people may also have a test called a barium meal. For this, you are asked to drink a liquid called barium, which helps to show the stomach more clearly on an x-ray.
Endoscopy (or gastroscopy)
An endoscopy, also called a gastroscopy, is the most common test used to diagnose stomach cancer. An endoscope is a thin, flexible tube with a tiny light and video camera at the end, which sends pictures back to a screen. The doctor or nurse who does the test (called the endoscopist) examines the gullet (oesophagus), the inside of your stomach and the beginning of the small bowel.
You can have an endoscopy as an outpatient, so you can go home the same day. It usually takes about 10 minutes and although it can be uncomfortable, it’s not painful. You’ll be asked not to eat or drink anything for at least six hours before the test. You’ll be given instructions about any medicines you’re taking.
To have the endoscopy, you lie on your side on a couch. The nurse or doctor usually gives you a sedative to relax you and make you drowsy. This is given as an injection into a vein in your arm. Sometimes, they spray a local anaesthetic on to the back of your throat instead. Or they might use both the injection and the spray. The endoscopist will then gently pass the endoscope down your gullet and into your stomach. They may put some air down it to inflate your stomach and make it easier to see everything. After the test is done, they will gently remove the endoscope.
If you had a sedative, the effects should only last a few hours. But you’ll need someone to drive or travel home with you. If you only had the anaesthetic spray, you’ll need to wait until the numbness wears off before you eat or drink.
Some people have a sore throat after their endoscopy. This is normal and it should get better after a few days.
During the endoscopy, they can remove small samples of tissue from any areas that look abnormal. This is called a biopsy. The tissue is examined under a microscope to find out if there are any cancer cells.