What are the symptoms of gastrointestinal (GI) or stomach cancer?

Jill Onesti, MD
Surgical Oncology
Many times, gastrointestinal (GI) or stomach cancer does not cause symptoms until it is fairly advanced. You may notice pain with eating or significant reflux pain. Some people experience a vague discomfort in the middle part of the abdomen just underneath the breastbone. Stomach cancer may also be noticed because of anemia or low hemoglobin levels. Significant weight loss and vomiting are often a sign of advanced cancer.
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The symptoms of stomach cancer are vague and often mimic those of much more common and benign disorders such as ulcers or inflammation of the stomach. Symptoms include upper abdominal pain, but there may be no symptoms at all. Some patients' only sign of stomach cancer is anemia found on routine blood work. The diagnosis is made typically by upper endoscopy with biopsy.  
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Stomach cancer is usually not discovered until it becomes more advanced when it causes symptoms. Symptoms of stomach cancer include:

  • Pain in the abdomen
  • Indigestion and loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Fatigue
  • Losing weight without dieting
  • Feeling full or bloated after a small meal
  • Abdominal swelling
  • Vomiting blood or having blood in the stool
Lawrence S. Friedman, MD
Malignancies of the stomach generally occur later in life, after age 50. Tumors that burrow into the stomach wall often produce symptoms that resemble those associated with ulcers. Eating a full meal can become impossible if growths extrude into the hollow of the organ or spread through the stomach wall, making it too stiff to expand. Warning signs include bleeding, persistent vomiting, a constant sense of nausea or fullness that interferes with normal eating, and weight loss. Stomach cancer usually requires the surgical removal of all or part of the stomach.
Robynne K. Chutkan, MD

Gastroenterologist Dr. Robynne Chutkan discusses the symptoms of stomach cancer. Watch Dr. Chutkan's video for information on digestive disorders and gastrointestinal issues.

Early symptoms of gastric cancer include indigestion and stomach pain or discomfort; a sense of fullness in the upper abdomen especially after eating, loss of appetite, and mild nausea. More advanced stomach cancer may produce unexplained weight loss, stomach pain, vomiting, tarry (black) stool, trouble swallowing, jaundice (yellowing of the skin and eyes), and swelling of the abdomen.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.