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Tests for stomach cancer

Men and woman discussing stomach cancer

This page is about tests to diagnose stomach cancer. There is information on

 

A quick guide to what's on this page

Tests for stomach cancer

You will usually see your family doctor (GP) first, who will ask you about your general health and examine you. They will ask about any symptoms. Your GP will examine you and feel your tummy (abdomen). It may feel tender, or it may be possible to feel a lump. After your examination, your GP may refer you to hospital for tests such as endoscopy or to see a specialist.

At the hospital

The specialist will ask you about your medical history and symptoms. He or she will then examine you by feeling your abdomen. You may have blood tests and a chest X-ray to check your general health. Then other tests will be arranged for you in the outpatients department. These may include an endoscopy if you have not had one already, and a barium meal.
 

CR PDF Icon You can view and print the quick guides for all the pages in the diagnosing stomach cancer section.

 

 

Tests at your doctor's

Usually you begin by seeing your GP who will examine you and ask about your general health. Your doctor will ask you about your symptoms. This will include what they are, when you get them and whether anything you do makes them better or worse.

Your doctor will ask you to lie down for a physical examination. The doctor will feel your tummy (abdomen). It may feel tender, or it may be possible to feel a lump. After your examination, your doctor may refer you to hospital for tests such as endoscopy or to see a specialist.

 

At the hospital

The specialist will ask about your medical history and symptoms. They will then examine you by feeling your abdomen. You may have blood tests and a chest X-ray to check your general health. Then they will arrange other tests for you in the outpatient department.

 

Endoscopy

This is the main test to diagnose stomach cancer. An endoscope is a long, thin, flexible tube with a light and camera inside. During the test you usually have a sedative to make you drowsy and less aware of what is going on. Once you are drowsy and relaxed, the doctor or nurse endoscopist will pass the endoscope tube down your throat into your stomach. This allows them to look at the inside of the foodpipe (oesophagus), stomach and the first part of the small bowel (the duodenum). They will take tissue samples (biopsies) of any abnormal looking areas.

There is detailed information about having an endoscopy in our cancer tests section. 

Sometimes the endoscopy tube has an ultrasound probe at the end. It takes an ultrasound scan of the stomach and surrounding area. This is called an endoscopic ultrasound. 

You can have this test as an outpatient. But you should take someone with you to take you home. You won't be able to eat or drink for about 8 hours before the test so that your stomach and duodenum are empty. 

Once the test is over you will need to rest for a while. Because of the sedative, you may not remember anything about the test once it is over. 

 

Barium meal

A barium meal is a type of X-ray investigation. This test is not commonly used now for stomach cancer. You can have it as an outpatient. You won't be able to eat or drink anything for 6 hours before you have your test.

When you get to the X-ray department, the nurse will ask you to change into a hospital gown. When the test is about to begin, you will have

  • An injection to relax the muscles of your digestive system
  • A white liquid to drink

The white liquid is the barium meal. It is this chalky liquid that shows up on the X-rays. After you've drunk the barium, you lie down on the X-ray couch. Your doctor will watch on an X-ray screen as the barium passes through your stomach and duodenum. Any growths or ulcers will show up on the screen. The couch will be tipped into different positions during the test to make the barium flow where the doctor wants it to go.

The whole test takes about an hour. You should be able to go home straight after the test. You can eat and drink normally as soon as the test is over. But some people feel sick for a while afterwards. You may find the barium makes you constipated. Your bowel motions will be white for a day or so as your body gets rid of the barium.

 

After the tests

Your specialist will give you an appointment to come back to the hospital when your test results have come through. The results may take a little time and you are bound to feel anxious. It may help if you ask your specialist how long the results are likely to take so that you have some idea of how long you will have to wait.

While you are waiting for results it may help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you are feeling. Or you may want to contact a cancer support group to talk to someone who has been through a similar experience. Look in the general cancer information section for an organisation that can give you information about support groups or counselling services near you.

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Updated: 11 February 2014