Stomach (Gastric) Cancer Screening
Key Points for This Section
Some screening tests are used because they have been shown to be helpful both in finding cancers early and in decreasing the chance of dying from these cancers. Other tests are used because they have been shown to find cancer in some people; however, it has not been proven in clinical trials that use of these tests will decrease the risk of dying from cancer.
Scientists study screening tests to find those with the fewest risks and most benefits. Cancer screening trials also are meant to show whether early detection (finding cancer before it causes symptoms) decreases a person's chance of dying from the disease. For some types of cancer, the chance of recovery is better if the disease is found and treated at an early stage.
Clinical trials that study cancer screening methods are taking place in many parts of the country. Information about ongoing clinical trials is available from the NCI Web site.
Several types of screening tests have been studied to find stomach cancer at an early stage. These screening tests include the following:
- Barium -meal photofluorography: A series of x-rays of the esophagus and stomach. The patient drinks a liquid that contains barium (a silver-white metallic compound) which coats the esophagus and stomach as it is swallowed. Photographs are taken of the x-ray images. The photographs are processed to make the organs easier to see and then made into a film. This makes it possible to see the motion of the organs while exposing the patient to less radiation.
- Upper endoscopy: A procedure to look inside the esophagus, stomach, and duodenum (first part of the small intestine) to check for abnormal areas. An endoscope is passed through the mouth and down the throat into the esophagus. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. It may also have a tool to remove tissue, which is checked under a microscope for signs of disease.
- Serum pepsinogen levels: A test that measures the levels of pepsinogen in the blood. Low levels of pepsinogen are a sign of chronic gastric atrophy which may lead to stomach cancer.
Studies showed that screening a large number of people for stomach cancer using these tests did not decrease the risk of dying from stomach cancer.
More studies are needed to find out if it would be worthwhile to screen people in the United States who do have a high risk for stomach cancer. Scientists believe that people with certain risk factors may benefit from stomach cancer screening. These include:
- Older people with chronic gastric atrophy or pernicious anemia.
- Patients who have had any of the following:
- Partial gastrectomy.
- Polyps in the stomach.
- Familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP).
- Hereditary nonpolyposis colon cancer (HNPCC).
- People who come from countries where stomach cancer is more common.