Stomach cancer: Nine early warning signs to watch out for

Stomach cancer usually begins in the mucus-producing cells that line the stomach, according to Mayo Clinic. The outlook for stomach cancer depends on several factors, including a person’s age, their general health, and how far the cancer has spread (the stage of the condition). Unfortunately, as stomach cancer isn’t often picked up until the later stages, the outlook isn’t as good as for some other cancers. Recognising the warning signs early on is therefore critical.

Your general health and fitness also affect survival

Cancer Research UK

As the NHS explained, many symptoms of stomach cancer are similar to less serious conditions, so it can be difficult to recognise in the early stages.

Early stage symptoms include:

  • Persistent indigestion
  • Trapped wind and frequent burping
  • Heartburn
  • Feeling full very quickly when eating
  • Feeling bloated after eating
  • Feeling sick
  • Pain in the stomach or breastbone
  • Difficulty swallowing (dysphagia)

Vomiting (the vomit may be streaked with blood), although this is uncommon in the early stages

Symptoms of more advanced stomach cancer include:

  • Blood in a person’s poo, or black poo
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Tiredness
  • Lumpiness and swelling in the stomach (caused by a build-up of fluid)
  • Anaemia (a reduced number of red blood cells that can cause a person to feel tired and breathless)
  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes (jaundice)


According to Cancer Research UK, outlook depends on the stage of the cancer when it was diagnosed. This means how big it is and whether it has spread.

The charity added: “Your general health and fitness also affect survival, the fitter you are, the better you may be able to cope with your cancer and treatment.”

Risk factors

The exact cause of stomach cancer is still unclear. Certain factors risk can increase a person’s chances of developing it, however.

According to Macmillan Cancer UK, a diet low in fresh fruit and vegetables or high in salt can increase the risk of stomach cancer. “Eating a lot of processed meats and foods that are smoked or pickled can also increase risk,” warned the charity.

Studies show the dangers of eating salty foods. an 11-year study of 40,000 middle-aged Japanese, conducted by scientists from Japan’s National Cancer Centre Research Institute, suggested that high salt intake can double a person’s risk of stomach cancer.

The research, published in the British Journal of Cancer, found that the risk of stomach cancer was one in 500 per year for those men with the highest salt intake – twice the rate for those who ate the least salt.

Adults should aim to have no more than 6g of salt a day. This is around one teaspoon. In the UK, most people eat more than this, notes Cancer Research UK.

“Most of the salt we eat is in the everyday foods such as bread, cereals and ready meals,” the health site explained.

As Macmillan Cancer UK explains, other risk factors include:

  • Gender – Stomach cancer is more common in men.
  • Age – 95 percent of people who develop stomach cancer are over 50 years old.
  • Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) – This common stomach infection can increase the risk of developing stomach cancer if it’s present over a long time.
  • Diet – Not enough fruit and vegetables, and a diet high in processed meats or smoked foods can increase risk.
  • Smoking – The longer a person smokes for and the more cigarettes they smoke, the greater the risk.
  • Being overweight can increase the risk of certain stomach cancers.
  • Stomach conditions – Long-term acid reflux or conditions which cause changes to the stomach lining may increase risk. If part of the stomach is removed during surgery for another condition (such as an ulcer), this can also increase risk.
  • Family history – If a family member has stomach cancer, you might have a slightly higher risk.
  • Genes – A very small number of families may have an inherited cancer gene that can increase risk.

Find out more about the risk factors here. 

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