Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, begins when cells change and grow out of control. There are several different types, including adenocarcinoma, squamous cell carcinoma, and gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs).

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Although rates of stomach cancer have been declining, it remains the fifth most diagnosed cancer and the third most common cause of cancer deaths worldwide. Therefore, learning about the types of stomach cancer and their recognizable symptoms is essential for early detection and improved outcomes.

There is a range of cancer types that affect the stomach. Each has different symptoms and treatment options.

Read on to learn more about the different types of stomach cancer.

Adenocarcinoma is the most common type of stomach cancer, accounting for around 9 in 10 cases. Adenocarcinomas start in the gland cells of the stomach mucosa, which is a layer of mucous membrane in the stomach.

There are two primary types of stomach adenocarcinomas:

  • Intestinal: These cancer cells typically have gene changes that allow for treatment with targeted drug therapy, so it has a better outlook.
  • Diffuse: This type spreads more quickly and is more difficult to treat. It is less common than the intestinal type.


Stomach cancer is slow-growing and may cause no symptoms in its early stages. As it progresses, symptoms may include:

  • indigestion (dyspepsia)
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • feeling full after eating a small amount of food
  • bloating
  • heartburn
  • weight loss

Pain is mild early on but becomes more severe and constant as the cancer progresses.


Often, doctors use several types of treatment. A person’s options depend on how far cancer has spread and their age, overall health, and personal preferences.

The main treatments for stomach cancer are:

  • Surgery: A surgeon can remove the cancerous growth and surrounding tissue. The extent of surgery depends on how far the cancer has spread.
  • Chemotherapy: These potent drugs target rapidly dividing cancer cells and stop them from growing.
  • Radiation therapy: High energy beams, such as X-rays, kill cancer cells in the stomach area.
  • Targeted drug therapy: This treatment targets specific genetic changes found in types of stomach adenocarcinoma and may help slow cancer growth.
  • Immunotherapy: This treatment enhances the immune system and helps it recognize and kill cancer cells.

Learn more about adenocarcinoma.

These cancers begin in immune system cells called lymphocytes. Usually, lymphomas originate elsewhere in the body, but they can also start in the stomach wall.


Symptoms include:

  • swollen abdomen
  • feeling full very easily
  • nausea or vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • enlarged lymph nodes
  • weight loss
  • fatigue
  • severe or frequent infections


Depending on the type and stage of the lymphoma and other factors, treatment options may include:

Learn more about non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Gastrointestinal stromal tumors (GISTs) can start anywhere in the digestive system and form in the stomach lining. These types of tumors are uncommon.


GISTs often grow into the space inside the digestive tract, so they might not cause symptoms immediately.

However, because they are fragile tumors, they can cause bleeding. This can cause a person to vomit blood or have bowel movements that appear black, tarry, or bloody.

These issues may not appear if the bleeding is slow. Instead, the person may develop anemia and feel tired and weak as their red blood cells drop. A person may also have other general signs of stomach cancer.


Doctors may not treat GISTs immediately, but surgery and targeted therapy are the main options if they do. They use chemotherapy and radiation less often.

Learn more about GISTs.

Neuroendocrine tumors (NETs), also called carcinoid tumors, begin in neuroendocrine cells in the digestive tract. These specialized cells receive nervous signals to produce and release certain hormones.

NETs tend to grow slowly and without spreading to other organs. However, some can grow and metastasize quickly.


NETs in the stomach often do not cause symptoms. A doctor may find them during a routine endoscopy or as they investigate other issues.

Sometimes, NETs release hormone-like substances into the bloodstream. If levels are high, it can cause carcinoid syndrome and symptoms such as:

  • facial flushing
  • diarrhea
  • wheezing
  • fast heart rate


The main types of treatment for these tumors are:

  • surgery
  • chemotherapy
  • radiation therapy

Squamous cell carcinoma of the stomach is rare, as this cancer typically affects the skin. There are fewer than 100 cases reported in medical papers.


Symptoms may include:

  • intermittent abdominal pain
  • weight loss
  • anemia

A person may also have other digestive symptoms.


Treatment options may depend on the location and stage of the disease. Doctors may suggest a gastrectomy, a surgery to remove the entire stomach and reattach the esophagus to the small intestine.

Other options may include chemotherapy, radiation, or immunotherapy.

Anyone experiencing digestive changes or potential symptoms of cancer should speak with a doctor. Doctors can assess symptoms and order tests to rule out other conditions or confirm cancer.

If the diagnosis is stomach cancer, further tests can determine the type and stage of the disease. With early detection and treatment, people have a better chance of successful treatment and recovery.

Diagnosis begins with a medical history and questions about symptoms. A physical exam then allows the doctor to detect changes in the abdomen, such as a mass or enlarged lymph nodes.

Depending on their findings, the doctor may refer the person to a specialist doctor called a gastroenterologist.

They may conduct additional tests to confirm their diagnosis. Some tests they may perform include:

Stomach cancer is a form of cancer that begins in the stomach and can spread to other parts of the body. There are several types of stomach cancer, including adenocarcinomas, non-Hodgkin lymphoma, GISTs, and neuroendocrine tumors.

Typical stomach cancer symptoms include abdominal pain, nausea, indigestion, loss of appetite, an unexpected feeling of fullness when eating, unexplained weight loss, and vomiting or passing blood in stools. Anyone with these symptoms should consult a doctor for diagnosis and treatment as soon as possible.