Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center

Education: Stomach & Esophageal Cancers

Stomach Cancer

The symptoms of stomach cancer may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis. Symptoms may include:

  • indigestion or heartburn (burning sensation)
  • discomfort or pain in the abdomen
  • nausea and vomiting
  • diarrhea or constipation
  • bloating after meals
  • loss of appetite
  • unexplained weight loss
  • weakness and fatigue
  • vomiting blood or blood in the stool

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for stomach cancer may include the following:

  • Fecal occult blood test—checks for hidden (occult) blood in the stool. It involves placing a very small amount of stool on a special card, which is then tested in the physician’s office or sent to a laboratory.
  • Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series (also called barium swallow)—a diagnostic test that examines the organs of the upper part of the digestive system: the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray) is swallowed. X-rays are then taken to evaluate the digestive organs.
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (also called EGD or upper endoscopy)—An EGD (upper endoscopy) is a procedure that allows the physician to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. A thin, flexible, lighted tube, called an endoscope, is guided into the mouth and throat, then into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The endoscope allows the physician to view the inside of this area of the body, as well as to insert instruments through a scope for the removal of a sample of tissue for biopsy (if necessary).
  • Endoscopic ultrasound—this imaging technique uses sound waves to create a computer image of the inside of the esophagus and stomach. The endoscope is guided into the mouth and throat, then into the esophagus and the stomach. As in standard endoscopy, this allows the physician to view the inside of this area of the body, as well as insert instruments to remove a sample of tissue (biopsy).

Esophageal Cancer

Often, there are no symptoms in the early stages of esophageal cancer. Symptoms do not appear until the disease is more advanced. The symptoms of esophageal cancer may resemble other medical conditions or problems. Always consult your physician for a diagnosis. Symptoms may include:

  • difficult or painful swallowing—a condition known as dysphagia is the most common symptom of esophageal cancer. This gives a sensation of having food lodged in the chest, and persons with dysphagia often switch to softer foods to help with swallowing.
  • pain in the throat or back, behind the breastbone or between the shoulder blades
  • severe weight loss—many persons with esophageal cancer lose weight unintentionally because they are not getting enough food.
  • hoarseness or chronic cough that does not go away within two weeks
  • vomiting
  • coughing up blood
  • heartburn

There is no routine screening examination for esophageal cancer; however, persons with Barrett’s esophagus should be examined often because they are at greater risk for developing the disease.

In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for esophageal cancer may include the following:

  • Chest x-ray—a diagnostic test which uses invisible electromagnetic energy beams to produce images of internal tissues, bones, and organs onto film.
  • Upper GI (gastrointestinal) series (also called barium swallow)—a diagnostic test that examines the organs of the upper part of the digestive system: the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (the first section of the small intestine). A fluid called barium (a metallic, chemical, chalky, liquid used to coat the inside of organs so that they will show up on an x-ray) is swallowed. X-rays are then taken to evaluate the digestive organs.
  • Esophagogastroduodenoscopy (also called EGD or upper endoscopy)—a procedure that allows the physician to examine the inside of the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. A thin, flexible, lighted tube, called an endoscope, is guided into the mouth and throat, then into the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum. The endoscope allows the physician to view the inside of this area of the body, as well as to insert instruments through a scope for the removal of a sample of tissue for biopsy (if necessary).
  • Computed tomography scan (CT or CAT scan)—diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound—this imaging technique uses sound waves to create a computer image of the inside of the esophagus and stomach. The endoscope is guided into the mouth and throat, then into the esophagus and the stomach. As in standard endoscopy, this allows the physician to view the inside of this area of the body, as well as insert instruments to remove a sample of tissue (biopsy).
  • Thoracoscopy and laparoscopy—these methods allow the physician to examine the lymph nodes inside the chest or abdomen with a hollow, lighted tube, and remove these nodes for further testing.