Stomach cancer

Stomach cancer

What is stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer develops when cells in the lining of the stomach grow and divide in an abnormal way. Tumours can begin anywhere in the stomach, although most start in the glandular tissue found on the stomach’s inner surface (mucosa). This type of cancer is called adenocarcinoma of the stomach (also known as gastric cancer).

If it is not found and treated early, stomach cancer can spread through the lymphatic system to nearby lymph nodes or through the bloodstream to other parts of the body, such as the liver and lungs. It may also spread to the walls of the abdomen (peritoneum). Rarely, it can grow through the stomach wall into nearby organs such as the pancreas and bowel.

Rare types of stomach cancer

Some less common types of cancer can affect the stomach. These include small cell carcinomas, lymphomas, neuroendocrine tumours and gastrointestinal stromal tumours. These types of cancer aren’t discussed here and treatment may be different. For more information, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Some cancers start at the point where the stomach meets the oesophagus (the gastro-oesophageal junction). Depending on the type of gastro-oesophageal cancer, it may be treated similarly to stomach cancer. For more information about your situation, talk to your treatment team.

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The oesophagus and stomach

The oesophagus and stomach are part of the upper gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is part of the digestive system. The digestive system helps the body break down food and turn it into energy.

The oesophagus (food pipe or gullet) is a long, muscular tube. It moves food, fluid and saliva from the mouth and throat to the stomach. A valve (sphincter) at the end of the oesophagus stops acid and food moving from the stomach back into the oesophagus.

The stomach is a hollow, muscular sac, located between the end of the oesophagus and the beginning of the small bowel. The stomach expands to store and help digest food that has been swallowed. It also helps the body absorb some vitamins and minerals.

Juices in the stomach break down food into a thick fluid, which then moves into the small bowel. In the small bowel, nutrients from the broken-down food are absorbed into the bloodstream. The waste matter moves into the large bowel, where fluids are absorbed into the body. The solid waste matter is passed out of the body as a bowel movement.

The oesophageal wall has three layers of tissue and an outer covering known as the adventitia. The stomach wall has four layers of tissue.

The stomach and oesophagus

oesophagus and stomach

The different layers of tissue (known as the wall) in the stomach include:

1. Mucosa (moist innermost layer)
  • made up of glandular cells
  • produces gastric fluids to help break down food
  • produces mucus (a thick fluid) that protects the stomach lining
2. Submucosa (supports the mucosa) 
  • provides blood and nutrients to the stomach
3. Muscle layer
  • known as the muscularis externa
  • produces contractions to help break down food and push it into the small bowel
4. Outer layer
  • known as the serosa
  • a smooth membrane that surrounds the stomach

Who gets stomach cancer

About 2200 people are diagnosed with stomach cancer in Australia each year. Men are twice as likely as women to be diagnosed with stomach cancer. It is more common in people over 60, but it can occur at any age. About one in 130 men and one in 300 women are likely to develop stomach cancer before the age of 75.

What causes stomach cancer?

The exact causes of stomach cancer are unknown, but the factors listed below may increase your risk. Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean you will develop cancer.

Known risk factors for stomach cancer

  • older age (being over 60)
  • infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a type of bacteria found in the stomach
  • having had a subtotal gastrectomy to treat non-cancerous conditions
  • smoking
  • low red blood cell levels (pernicious anaemia)
  • a family history of stomach cancer
  • having an inherited genetic condition such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Lynch syndrome, gastric adenocarcinoma and proximal polyposis of the stomach (GAPPS) or hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC)
  • chronic inflammation of the stomach (chronic gastritis)
  • being overweight or obese
  • drinking alcohol
  • eating foods preserved by salting

Click on the icon below to download a PDF booklet on stomach and oesophageal cancers

    Understanding Stomach and Oesophageal Cancers

  • 786 kB

Printed copies are available for free - Call 13 11 20 to order

Instructions for downloading and reading EPUB files

Apple devices

The iBooks application must be installed on your Apple device before you can read the EPUB.
Different ways to download an EPUB file to your Apple device:

  • email EPUB files to yourself and transfer the attachment to iBooks.
  • copy EPUB files into DropBox (or a similar service) and use the DropBox app to send them to iBooks.
  • open EPUB files directly from Mobile Safari and open them in iBooks, where they are saved automatically by downloading the EPUB from the website.

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To download an EPUB file to your Kobo from a Windows computer:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • select “Open folder to view files” to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

To download an EPUB to your Kobo from a Mac:

  • download and save the EPUB directly onto your desktop.
  • connect your Kobo to your computer using the USB cable and tap “Connect” on your eReader.
  • open your “Finder” application.
  • select “Kobo eReader” from the listed devices to view the contents of your Kobo.
  • navigate to where you have stored your EPUB file in “Finder”, probably in documents or downloads, and drag and drop it into the Kobo window. You can now disconnect your Kobo to read the eBook.

Turn on your Kobo and your EPUB will be located in “eBooks”, while a PDF will be located in “Documents”.
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Sony Reader

To download an EPUB file on your Sony Reader™:

  • ensure you have already installed the Reader™ Library for PC/Mac software
  • select the eBook you want from our website and click the link to download it.
  • connect the Reader™ to your computer.
  • open the Reader™ Library software and click “Library” in the left-hand pane and select the eBook to view it.

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Amazon Kindle 2nd Generation devices

EPUB files can’t be read on the Amazon Kindle™. However, like most eReaders, Kindle™ 2nd Generation devices are able to display PDFs. We recommend that you download the PDF version of this booklet if you would like to read it on a Kindle™.
To transfer a PDF to your Kindle™ via USB cable from your computer or Mac:

  • download the PDF directly onto your computer.
  • connect the USB cable to your computer’s USB port, and the micro USB end of the cable to your Kindle™. Note: the Kindle™ won’t be available as a reading device while it is connected to your computer until it has been disconnected.
  • open the Kindle™ drive and several folders will appear inside. The “Documents” folder is where you will need to copy or drag the PDF to.
  • safely eject your Kindle™ from your computer and unplug the USB cable. Your content will appear on the Home Screen.

Kindle also provides a Kindle Personal Documents Service that allows users to send documents as an attachment directly to your eReader. For more information on this service, visit
For more information on accessing a PDF on your Kindle™, visit, log in to your account and click on Personal Document Settings.
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Android and PC

You can also download and open eBooks on Android devices and PCs with appropriate apps or software installed. Suitable eReader apps for Android include Google Play Books, FBReader and Moon+ Reader. Suitable software for PCs include Calibre and Adobe Digital Editions.

This information was last reviewed in October 2019
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