Treatment for stomach cancer can depend on the specific location of the cancer and how far it has spread. Options can include surgery, chemotherapy, targeted drugs, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, or palliative care.

In 2020, stomach cancer was the sixth most common cancer worldwide and the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths. It can start as a tumor in any part of the stomach. Certain factors, such as a person’s age, overall health, and personal preferences, play a crucial role in determining the appropriate course of treatment.

This article discusses the various treatment options available for stomach cancer, including how they work, examples, and side effects.

Two people outside hugging -2.Share on Pinterest
Lior + Lone/Stocksy United

Surgery is a common treatment option for stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, particularly in the early stages.

The exact type of surgery depends on the location of the cancer.

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), if the cancer has not spread to other parts of the body, surgery may offer the best chance of curing the cancer.

The goal of surgery is to remove the tumor along with some of the surrounding healthy tissue to prevent cancer spread. Types of surgical procedures for stomach cancer include:

  • Endoscopic resection: Endoscopic mucosal resection (EMR) and endoscopic submucosal dissection (ESD) can treat some very early stage cancers. It might also include when a doctor believes the tumor has not grown into the stomach wall, meaning the chance of spread is very low.
  • Gastrectomy: This involves the removal of part or all of the stomach, depending on the extent of the cancer.
  • Lymph node dissection: This involves removing nearby lymph nodes to check for the spread of cancer.

While surgery can be highly effective in treating early stage stomach cancer, it may carry risks, including infection, bleeding, and complications related to anesthesia.

Success rates for surgery vary depending on various factors, such as the cancer’s stage.

Learn more about surgery for stomach cancer.

Chemotherapy — or chemo — is a treatment that stops or slows the growth of cancer cells, which tend to grow and divide quickly. Doctors use chemotherapy in combination with surgery or radiation therapy, particularly for people whose cancer has spread beyond the stomach.

A person may take chemotherapy drugs orally or intravenously (IV). Doctors typically give the treatment in cycles with rest periods in between. They may prescribe a combination of chemotherapy drugs for stomach cancer, including:

  • fluorouracil (5-FU)
  • oxaliplatin
  • cisplatin
  • docetaxel

While chemotherapy can be effective, it is quite invasive and causes severe side effects during and after treatment. A doctor will usually prescribe chemotherapy when the benefits likely outweigh any adverse effects. Some of the common side effects include:

Success rates for chemotherapy vary depending on the stage of the cancer and the individual’s response to treatment.

Learn more about chemotherapy for stomach cancer.

Targeted drug therapy involves using drugs that specifically attack cancer cells. They work by blocking the signals that cancer cells use to grow and divide.

A doctor may suggest biomarker tests to help predict a person’s response to certain targeted therapy drugs. They may also prescribe targeted therapies alone or in combination with other treatments, such as chemotherapy or immunotherapy.

Some of the types of targeted drug therapy include:

Targeted therapy drugs can improve survival rates in some people with advanced stomach cancer. However, they may also cause side effects, such as:

A doctor may also prescribe medication to help prevent side effects or treat them once they occur. Most side effects of targeted therapy go away after treatment ends.

Learn more about targeted therapy.

Immunotherapy is a type of cancer treatment that helps the immune system fight cancer. It stimulates the immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells more effectively. A 2023 review found that in a group of patients receiving immunotherapy for stomach cancer, the survival rate after 1 year was 87.1%.

Several types of immunotherapy treat cancer, but some may be more effective than others. A doctor may prescribe immunotherapy drugs alone or in combination with other treatments.

Some types of immunotherapy include immune checkpoint inhibitors and monoclonal antibodies.

Immunotherapy can also cause side effects, such as:

Learn more about immunotherapy.

Radiation therapy uses high energy X-rays or other types of radiation to destroy cancer cells and stop them from growing. Doctors may use it before surgery to shrink the tumor or after surgery to kill any remaining cancer cells.

The more common form of this therapy type for gastric cancer is external radiation therapy. This radiation therapy uses an external machine to direct radiation toward the area of the body with cancer.

Radiation therapy can also help relieve symptoms, such as pain or difficulty swallowing, in people with advanced stomach cancer. However, it can also cause side effects, such as:

These side effects usually clear up within a few weeks after the treatment. When radiation is given with chemotherapy, side effects may be worse sometimes.

Learn more about radiation therapy.

Palliative care focuses on improving the quality of life for people with advanced stomach cancer by helping them and their caregivers manage the illness’s symptoms and the treatment’s side effects.

Healthcare providers can offer palliative care at any stage of cancer.

It may include:

  • pain management
  • nutritional support
  • emotional support for both the individual and their family

Doctors can provide palliative care alongside other treatments or as the main focus of care for people who are not eligible for aggressive treatment.

Learn more about palliative care.

Treatment for stomach cancer often involves a combination of surgery, chemotherapy, targeted drug therapy, immunotherapy, radiation therapy, and palliative care.

Each treatment option has its own set of benefits, risks, and success rates, depending on factors, such as the cancer’s stage and the person’s overall health.

By working closely with a team of healthcare professionals, people can receive treatment plans for their individual needs to achieve the best possible outcomes in their battle against stomach cancer.