About treatment for stomach cancer

The main treatments for stomach cancer are surgery and chemotherapy. Sometimes, radiotherapy or targeted therapy treatments are used. The treatments can be used alone or in combination with each other.

Your treatment for stomach cancer depends on:

Your cancer doctor and specialist nurse will explain the treatments they think are best for you. They can help you make decisions about your treatment.

Preparing for treatment

After you have been diagnosed with stomach cancer, you will be referred to a hospital dietitian. You might have difficulty eating and may have lost weight. A dietitian can give you advice on eating well and help you stop losing weight. This helps you prepare for treatment.

If you smoke, you should try to stop or cut down before your operation. This will help reduce the risk of problems, such as getting a serious chest infection. It will also improve wound healing after the operation. Your GP can give you advice on giving up smoking.

Treating early-stage stomach cancer

The treatment you are offered will depend on your individual situation.

Your cancer doctor will talk to you about the treatment options that might be best in your situation.

Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR)

If you have a very early-stage stomach cancer, you may be offered a treatment to remove the cancer using an endoscope. This is called an endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR), or an endoscopic sub-mucosal dissection (ESD). Your surgeon may offer you this treatment if the tumour is very small and is only affecting the inner lining of the stomach.

Surgery

If you have stomach cancer that has not spread, you may be offered surgery to remove the cancer. This is a major operation to remove part, or all, of the stomach and nearby lymph nodes. You need to be well enough to have this operation.

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy is also used to treat stomach cancer. You may have chemotherapy before and after surgery to reduce the risk of the cancer coming back. Sometimes you might have chemotherapy with radiotherapy (chemoradiation) after surgery.

Treating stomach cancer that has spread

Surgery

Sometimes, surgery is used to relieve the symptoms of stomach cancer that has spread. For example, it may be used if the cancer is causing a blockage (obstruction).

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy may be used to treat stomach cancer that has spread. It may be given on its own when an operation is not possible.

Radiotherapy

You may have radiotherapy or targeted therapy to relieve symptoms if the cancer is advanced.

Targeted therapy

Sometimes, a targeted therapy drug called trastuzumab is given with chemotherapy to treat stomach cancer that has spread. Trastuzumab is not suitable for everyone. Your cancer doctor or specialist nurse can explain whether trastuzumab may help you.

Immunotherapy

Immunotherapy treatment has been shown to be helpful for treating a few different cancers. An immunotherapy drug such as nivolumab or pembrolizumab may be used. Currently immunotherapy is not commonly used to treat stomach cancer. But you may be offered it as part of a clinical trial.

If the cancer has spread and you decide not to have chemotherapy, you might have treatment to control your symptoms. You will usually see doctors or nurses who specialise in symptom control (palliative or supportive care).

If you are having problems with symptoms, you can see a member of the palliative care team at any time during treatment.

How we can help

Macmillan Cancer Support Line
The Macmillan Support Line offers confidential support to people living with cancer and their loved ones. If you need to talk, we'll listen.
0808 808 00 00
Every day 8am - 8pm
Email us
Get in touch via this form
Chat online
Every day 8am - 8pm
Online community
An anonymous network of people affected by cancer which is free to join. Share experiences, ask questions and talk to people who understand.
Help in your area
What's going on near you? Find out about support groups, where to get information and how to get involved with Macmillan where you live.