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Stomach cancer

Diagnosis of stomach cancer

Stomach cancer is uncommon in the United States. Regular screenings are not typically recommended unless you have a number of risk factors, such as a family history of stomach cancer or invasive lobular breast cancer.

For this reason, stomach cancer is usually diagnosed after it first begins showing symptoms. Some of the tools your Dignity Health doctor may use to diagnose stomach cancer include:

  • Physical exam and history: Your doctor will discuss your family history, medical history, and current symptoms, and conduct a physical exam to check your abdomen for abnormalities.
  • Blood and stool tests: These tests can look for common indications of stomach cancer, such as pernicious anemia or blood in your stool (feces).
  • Endoscopy: In an “upper endoscopy,” your doctor will use an endoscope, which is a thin tube with an attached light and camera, insert it through your mouth, down your throat, and into your stomach. While you are sedated, your doctor will use the endoscope to examine your throat, stomach lining, and the upper part of your small intestine for any signs of cancer or precancer.
  • Ultrasound: Ultrasound imaging uses ultrasonic waves to get a better picture of the organs in your abdomen, including your stomach. Ultrasounds can also be used in combination with an endoscopy to get a biopsy (tissue sample) of a possibly cancerous area.
  • Biopsy: During an ultrasound or endoscopy, your doctor may collect a small sample of your stomach lining or other tissue in your digestive system to analyze in a lab.
  • X-rays, MRIs, CTs, and PET scans: Imaging tests such as these can help your doctor get a picture of your abdomen to confirm the location of any cancerous growth or to guide a biopsy needle into areas that are hard to reach via endoscopy.


The stage of stomach cancer plays a significant role in guiding treatment options. There are five main stages of stomach cancer: 0, I, II, III, and IV. Higher numbers indicate more severe disease that has metastasized (spread) outside of the stomach.

Surgery is the primary treatment for all stages of stomach cancer; in many cases, it is possible to excise (remove) cancerous tumors or growths. Doctors also often use radiation therapy and chemotherapy, either before or after surgery. They may also use targeted treatments to work more directly on localized cancer cells.

We provide personalized, whole-person care for the treatment and prevention of stomach cancer. Our experts at Dignity Health are happy to discuss prevention and treatment with you and your family.

The information contained in this article is meant for educational purposes only and should not replace advice from your healthcare provider.