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Treatment decisions for advanced cancer

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

Deciding about treatment can be difficult when you have advanced cancer.

Treatments such as chemotherapy or radiotherapy can help to reduce symptoms and might make you feel better. But they also have side effects that can make you feel unwell for a while.

You need to understand:

  • what treatment can do for you
  • how it might affect your quality of life
  • what side effects it has

Your doctor or specialist nurse can talk to you about the benefits and possible side effects. You can ask them questions. You might also find it helps to talk things over with a close relative, a friend or a counsellor at the hospital.

We're here for you if you or someone close to you has cancer. You can call our Cancer Research UK nurses on 0800 800 4040, 9am to 5pm.

Treatment overview

Your treatment depends on:

  • the size of your cancer and where it is in your body
  • your symptoms
  • the treatment you have already had
  • your general health

To shrink your cancer or slow its growth, and relieve symptoms your doctor might recommend:

Chemotherapy

Chemotherapy uses anti cancer (cytotoxic) drugs to destroy cancer cells. The drugs circulate throughout the body in your bloodstream.

Chemotherapy for advanced stomach cancer can relieve symptoms. It can also control the cancer and improve your quality of life for a time. 

Radiotherapy

Radiotherapy uses high energy waves like x-rays to destroy cancer cells. You might have radiotherapy to shrink your cancer and help relieve symptoms. 

Targeted cancer drugs

Targeted cancer drugs are treatments that change the way cells work and help the body to control the growth of cancer. They work by ‘targeting’ the differences that help a cancer cell to survive and grow.

You might have a targeted cancer drug combined with chemotherapy if your advanced stomach cancer is HER2 positive. HER2 stands for human epidermal growth factor receptor 2. It is a protein that makes cells grow and divide.

Other treatments to help symptoms

The cancer might block the entrance to your stomach or bowel. This can cause pain, sickness and make you feel very unwell. 

Your doctor might recommend:

  • laser therapy which means using hot beams of light to burn away cancer cells causing the blockage
  • a tube called a stent that goes into your stomach to allow food to pass through

Your choices

Your doctor might offer you a choice of treatments. Discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each treatment with them and ask how they can control any side effects. This helps you make the right decision for you. You also need to think about the other factors involved in each treatment, such as:

  • whether you need extra appointments
  • if you need more tests
  • the distance you need to travel to and from hospital

You might have to make further choices as your situation changes. It helps to find out as much as possible each time. You can stop a treatment whenever you want to if you find it too much to cope with.

Before you have treatment, your doctor will explain what they are going to do and what the side effects are. You’ll sign a consent form. This is a good time to ask any questions you might have.

You may decide not to have cancer treatments, such as chemotherapy. But you can still have medicines to help control symptoms, such as sickness or pain.

Your doctor or nurse will explain what could help you. You can also ask them to refer you to a local symptom control team to give you support at home.

Emotional support

Finding out that cancer has spread can be a big shock. It might help to talk to a close friend or relative about how you feel.

For support and information, you can call the Cancer Research UK information nurses on freephone 0808 800 4040, from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. They can give advice about who can help you and what kind of support is available.
Last reviewed: 
30 Aug 2019
  • Gastric cancer: ESMO Clinical Practice Guidelines for diagnosis, treatment and follow-up 
    E Smyth and others, 
    Annals of Oncology, 2016. Volume 27, Pages v38–v49

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