Symptoms of advanced stomach cancer

The symptoms of advanced stomach cancer depend on what part of the body the cancer has spread to. 

Advanced stomach cancer means that a cancer that began in the stomach has spread to another part of the body.

General symptoms

The most common symptoms of stomach cancer include:

  • unexplained weight loss
  • black poo which contains blood (melaena)
  • feeling and being sick
  • stomach pain
  • difficulty swallowing
  • feeling tired

The most common place for stomach cancer to spread is to the liver. It can also spread to the lungs, to lymph nodes or to the tissue lining the abdominal cavity (peritoneum).

Symptoms of cancer that has spread to the liver

You might have any of the following symptoms if your cancer has spread to the liver:

  • discomfort or pain on the right side of your tummy (abdomen)
  • feeling sick
  • poor appetite and weight loss
  • a swollen tummy (called ascites)
  • yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)
  • itchy skin
Diagram showing stomach cancer that has spread to the liver

Symptoms if cancer has spread to the lungs

You may have any of these symptoms if your cancer has spread into the lungs:

  • a cough that doesn’t go away
  • breathlessness
  • ongoing chest infections
  • a build up of fluid between the chest wall and the lung (a pleural effusion)
Diagram showing stomach cancer that has spread to the lungs

Symptoms if cancer has spread to the lymph nodes

Lymph nodes are part of a system of tubes and glands in the body that filters body fluids and fights infection.

Cancer can spread to:

  •  close by lymph nodes in the tummy (abdomen) – these are called regional lymph nodes
  •  lymph nodes further away, for example close to your collar bone – these are called distant lymph nodes

The symptoms you have depend on which lymph nodes contain cancer.  The most common symptom is the lymph node feels hard or swollen. Swollen lymph nodes in the chest can make it difficult to swallow. You might have severe upper abdominal pain that moves into your back if you have cancer in the lymph nodes in the back of your abdomen.

Diagram showing stomach cancer that has spread to the lymph nodes

Symptoms if cancer spreads to the tissue lining your abdomen (peritoneum)

You might have a swollen tummy (abdomen) if your cancer has spread to the tissue lining your abdomen (peritoneum). The swelling is due to a build up of fluid called ascites. It can make your clothes feel tighter. Your tummy might feel bloated. You might also find it difficult to sit comfortably or to move around.

The swelling caused by the build up of fluid can be uncomfortable. You may have other symptoms such as:

  • loss of appetite
  • indigestion
  • feeling sick
  • constipation
  • shortness of breath

Controlling symptoms

Symptoms can usually be well controlled. Your doctor or nurse can tell you about medicines that will help you. They can also tell you about things that you or your friends and family can do.

There are symptom control teams in most cancer units. They can help you to stay as well as possible for as long as possible. They are also in hospices and many general hospitals.

Most symptom control teams have home care services so they can visit you at home.

Last reviewed: 
22 Aug 2019
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