Stomach Cancer Information

What is Stomach Cancer?

Stomach cancer information can be difficult to understand without first learning about the stomach and digestive system. The stomach is part of the digestive system. It is located in the upper abdomen, under the ribs. The upper part of the stomach connects to the esophagus, and the lower part leads into the small intestine.

When food enters the stomach, muscles in the stomach wall create a rippling motion that mixes and mashes the food. At the same time, juices made by glands in the lining of the stomach help digest the food. After about 3 hours, the food becomes a liquid and moves into the small intestine, where digestion continues.

What Is Stomach Cancer?

Cancer is a group of more than 100 different diseases. They affect the body's basic unit, the cell. Cancer occurs when cells become abnormal and divide without control or order.

Like all other organs of the body, the stomach is made up of many types of cells. Normally, cells divide to produce more cells only when the body needs them. This orderly process helps keep us healthy.

If cells keep dividing when new cells are not needed, a mass of tissue forms. This mass of extra tissue, called a growth or tumor, can be benign or malignant.

  • Benign tumors are not cancer. They can usually be removed and, in most cases, they do not come back. Most important, cells from benign tumors do not spread to other parts of the body. Benign tumors are rarely a threat to life.

  • Malignant tumors are cancer. Cancer cells can invade and damage tissues and organs near the tumor. Also, cancer cells can break away from a malignant tumor and enter the bloodstream or lymphatic system. This is how cancer spreads from the original (primary) tumor to form new tumors in other parts of the body. The spread of cancer is called metastasis.

Stomach cancer (also called gastric cancer) can develop in any part of the stomach and may spread throughout the stomach and to other organs. Stomach cancer may grow along the stomach wall into the esophagus or small intestine. It also may extend through the stomach wall and spread to nearby lymph nodes and to organs such as the liver, pancreas, and colon. Stomach cancer also may spread to distant organs, such as the lungs, the lymph nodes above the collar bone, and the ovaries.

When stomach cancer spreads to another part of the body, the new tumor has the same kind of abnormal cells and the same name as the primary tumor. For example, if stomach cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are stomach cancer cells. The disease is metastatic stomach cancer (it is not liver cancer). However, when stomach cancer spreads to an ovary, the tumor in the ovary is called a Krukenberg tumor. (This tumor, named for a doctor, is not a different disease; it is metastatic stomach cancer. The cancer cells in a Krukenberg tumor are stomach cancer cells, the same as the cancer cells in the primary tumor.)

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