The pathway to stomach cancer diagnosis really starts from the moment you develop the symptoms and going to the doctor for early tests is vital.
It is most commonly made in the over 60's, but can rarely occur in younger people particularly when associated with a genetic tendency.
The first signs are likely to be very non-specific such as not feeling not quite right or perhaps you have been worrying that you may have developed the condition because of a family history.
The next step in is a visit to your doctor. They will take a history of the problem from you and give you a full examination.
If they have concerns, they will refer you for further tests or arrange an appointment for you to see a specialist.
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Other blood tests to check kidney and liver function will also be done.
A routine chest x-ray may be requested to look for evidence of tumor spread.
Ultimately, the investigation of choice is an endoscopy procedure. If the test shows evidence of a tumor, the endoscopist will take a biopsy (a piece of tissue) to confirm the gastric cancer diagnosis.
The findings will also determine what happens after your endoscopy.
If confirmed, you will be introduced to the specialist nurse who can provide further information and support on the condition as well as a referral made to an oncologist and surgeon.
If endoscopy is not appropriate, a barium meal can be used in the investigation of your symptoms.
This involves swallowing barium contrast which shows up on x-ray. The radiologist is looking for narrowed areas or strictures.
They are also looking for the so called “filling defects” seen when the barium passes over an ulcerated area.
CT scanning is a good way to help “stage” your disease.
It’s not usually used in stomach cancer diagnosis, but is excellent to look for tumor spread or metastases.
It’s a complex x-ray scan where x-ray ‘slices’ are taken that show the organs in great detail as if you were cut in half.
MRI imaging can be used, although it’s not a common diagnostic tool for this condition.
Its a noisy, claustrophobic test that some find difficult to tolerate although shows excellent images and involves no radiation.
Ultrasound is a common diagnostic investigation. Using sound waves, this tool is good for picking up tumor spread to the liver, particularly when the CT scan isn't 100% diagnostic.
The ultrasonographer runs a probe over the areas that need viewing with images projected on to a monitor.
PET scanning or 'Positron Emission Tomography' is usually used to highlight tumors when a CT scan is not diagnostic. There may be areas, particularly lung abnormalities that are questionable on CT.
PET highlights areas with high probability of malignant disease and is useful in diagnosis of secondary tumors.