Overview of Stomach Cancer

The stomach is part of the digestive system. It is located in the upper abdomen, between the esophagus and the small intestine. Stomach cancer is also called gastric cancer.

Most (85 percent) cases of gastric cancer are adenocarcinomas that occur in the lining of the stomach (mucosa). Approximately 40 percent of cases develop in the lower part of the stomach (pylorus); 40 percent develop in the middle part (body); and 15 percent develop in the upper part (cardia). In about 10 percent of cases, cancer develops in more than one part of the stomach.

Stomach cancer can spread (metastasize) to the esophagus or the small intestine, and can extend through the stomach wall to nearby lymph nodes and organs (e.g., liver, pancreas, colon). It also can metastasize to other parts of the body (e.g., lungs, ovaries, bones).

Incidence of Stomach Cancer

According to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), approximately 760,000 cases of stomach cancer are diagnosed worldwide and about 24,590 cases are diagnosed in the United States each year. Incidence is highest in Japan, South America, Eastern Europe, and parts of the Middle East. Worldwide, stomach cancer is one of the leading cause of cancer-related deaths, along with lung, liver, colorectal, and breast cancers.

Stomach cancer occurs twice as often in men and it is more common in people over the age of 55. In the United States, incidence is higher in African Americans than in Caucasians.

Changes in diet and food preparation have led to a recent decrease in the incidence of cancer of the lower stomach (distal gastric cancer). However, incidence of cancer of the upper stomach (proximal gastric cancer) has increased, primarily as a result of the prevalence of obesity and gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD).

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

Published: 14 Aug 1999

Last Modified: 06 Oct 2015