Chemotherapy to Treat Stomach Cancer

Chemotherapy involves using drugs to destroy cancer cells. Chemotherapy drugs may be administered orally or through an IV (i.e., through a vein) and treatment often is administered on an outpatient basis. Drugs that are used to treat stomach cancer include trastuzumab (Herceptin) and ramucirumab (Cyramza)—which was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in April 2014.

Chemotherapy may be used to treat stomach cancer that has spread (metastasized). It also may be given before surgery to shrink the tumor and make it easier to remove or after stomach cancer surgery—often along with radiation—to destroy any remaining cancer cells. Chemotherapy can help relieve symptoms for some patients, especially those with spread to other parts of the body.

Chemotherapy drugs target rapidly dividing cells and travel throughout the body via the bloodstream (called systemic treatment). Side effects may be severe and include the following:

  • Diarrhea
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Increased risk for infection (suppressed immune system)
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Reduced red blood cell count (anemia)

Radiation Therapy to Treat Stomach Cancer

Radiation involves using high-energy x-rays to destroy cancer cells. This treatment may be used after surgery for gastric cancer to destroy remaining cancer cells. In some cases, radiation is administered during surgery for stomach cancer (called intraoperative radiotherapy). Side effects of radiation include fatigue, inflammation, and skin irritation.

Publication Review By: Toomas Sorra, M.D., F.A.C.G.

Published: 14 Aug 1999

Last Modified: 06 Oct 2015