How stomach cancer is diagnosed

Your GP will examine you. They may arrange tests or refer you to see a specialist at the hospital. A gastroenterologist is a doctor who specialises in treating stomach problems. You may also see a nurse specialist.

You’ll have blood tests to check your general health and your doctor will arrange an endoscopy. An endoscopy is the most common test used to diagnose stomach cancer. You have it as an outpatient and it takes about ten minutes. You’ll be given instructions on how to prepare for the test. An endoscopy may be uncomfortable but isn’t usually painful.

You lie down on your side and a nurse or doctor usually gives you a sedative to relax you. After this they gently pass a thin flexible tube with a tiny camera on the end down your gullet to look inside your stomach.

During the endoscopy, they can take small samples of tissue from any areas that look abnormal. This is called a biopsy. The tissue will be examined under a microscope to see if there are any cancer cells.

Seeing your GP

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 will usually see a doctor called a gastroenterologist who specialises 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 taken to check your general health and to find out if you are anaemic (low red blood cells). Your doctor will arrange for you to have a test called an endoscopy to look at the inside of your stomach. Some people may also have a test called a barium meal, which helps to show the stomach more clearly on an x-ray.


Endoscopy (or gastroscopy)

What is an endoscopy?

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.

Having an endoscopy

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.

After an endoscopy

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, 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.

Back to Tests and scans

Further tests after diagnosis

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