Being diagnosed with stomach cancer

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 is making them unwell.

At your appointment, the GP will talk to you about any symptoms you have, examine you and arrange any tests that you need. If they think your symptoms may be serious, they will arrange immediate tests or an urgent referral to a specialist doctor at the hospital.

At the hospital you will 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 surgeon or a gastrointestinal nurse specialist.

Your doctor will arrange for you to have a test called an endoscopy to look at the inside of your stomach.

You’ll have blood tests to check your general health and to find out if you’re anaemic (low amount of red blood cells).

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 to a screen. The doctor or nurse who does the test is called an endoscopist. They will use the endocope to look at your gullet (oesophagus), the inside of your stomach and the beginning of your small bowel.

Stomach endoscopy
Stomach endoscopy

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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 several hours before the test. You’ll be given instructions about any medicines you’re taking.

The nurse or doctor may give 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.

To have the endoscopy, you lie on your side on a couch. 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.

Biopsy

During the endoscopy, the endoscopist can remove small samples of tissue from any areas that look abnormal. This is called a biopsy. This is called a biopsy.

The tissue is examined under a microscope to find out if there are any cancer cells.

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Further tests after diagnosis

If you have been diagnosed with stomach cancer, you usually have further tests to see whether the cancer has spread.