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Symptoms

Find out about the possible symptoms of stomach (gastric) cancer and when to see your doctor.

Symptoms of early stomach cancer can be the same as symptoms of other conditions, such as ulcers.

Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

You may feel pain or a burning sensation when you swallow, or your food may stick in your throat or chest. This is the most common symptom of oesophageal cancer.

A harmless narrowing of the oesophagus called a stricture can also make it difficult for you to swallow. It is important to get this symptom checked by your doctor.

Weight loss

This is weight loss when you are not trying to lose weight. Rarely, extreme weight loss can be a sign of an advanced cancer.

Pain

You may have pain in your tummy (upper abdomen) or behind your breastbone (sternum).

Persistent indigestion (dyspepsia) and burping

You can get indigestion when acid from the stomach goes back up (refluxes) into the food pipe (oesophagus). Or you can get it if you have any irritation in your stomach. This often happens after eating (heartburn).

Remember, indigestion is common and it's not usually caused by cancer. Indigestion and heartburn can be very painful, even if nothing’s seriously wrong.

See your doctor if you’ve had heartburn most days for 3 weeks or more, even if you’re taking medicine and it seems to help.

Feeling full after eating small amounts

This is often an early symptom and can cause weight loss.

Sickness (vomiting)

Stomach cancer can cause a small blockage in the stomach. This stops food from passing through your digestive symptom which can make you vomit.

Rarely, there is blood in the vomit. You may not be able to see any blood if it is small amounts. The blood might be bright red, which means it is fresh bleeding. Or it may look dark brown, like used coffee grounds, if the blood has been in the stomach for a while.

Bleeding

Early and advanced stomach cancer can bleed into the stomach. Over time this reduces the number of red blood cells in your blood (anaemia).

Feeling tired and breathless

This can be because you have a reduced number of red blood cells (anaemia). 

Dark poo (blood in your stool)

Your poo may be darker – almost black – if your stomach is bleeding. Your poo can also be darker if you're taking iron tablets.

When to see your doctor

You should see your doctor if you have:

  • difficulty swallowing
  • symptoms that are unusual for you
  • symptoms that don't go away

Your symptoms are unlikely to be cancer but it is important to get them checked by a doctor.

Last reviewed: 
06 Jul 2016
  • Cancer and its management
    J Tobias and D Hochhauser
    Chichester : John Wiley and Sons Ltd (2015)

  • Diagnostic value of symptoms of Oesophagogastric cancers in primary care- a systemaric review and meta analysis
    M Astin and others
    British journal of general practice, 2015, Oct;65(639)

  • Gastric cancer: ESMO–ESSO–ESTRO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up
    T Waddell and others
    Annals of oncology, Vol 24, Sup 6, 157-163 (October 2013)

  • Referral Guidelines for suspected cancer
    National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), June 2015

  • Scottish referral guidelines for suspected cancer
    NHS Scotland, May 2015

  • Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeons of Great Britain and Ireland, the British Society of Gastroenterology and the British Association of Surgical Oncology 
    Gut 2011;60:1449-1472

Information and help

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