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Gastric Cancer Treatment (PDQ®)

Stages of Gastric Cancer

After gastric cancer has been diagnosed, tests are done to find out if cancer cells have spread within the stomach or to other parts of the body.

The process used to find out if cancer has spread within the stomach or to other parts of the body is called staging. The information gathered from the staging process determines the stage of the disease. It is important to know the stage in order to plan treatment.

The following tests and procedures may be used in the staging process:

  • CEA (carcinoembryonic antigen) assay: Tests that measure the level of CEA in the blood. This substance is released into the bloodstream from both cancer cells and normal cells. When found in higher than normal amounts, it can be a sign of gastric cancer or other conditions.
  • Endoscopic ultrasound (EUS): A procedure in which an endoscope is inserted into the body, usually through the mouth or rectum. An endoscope is a thin, tube-like instrument with a light and a lens for viewing. A probe at the end of the endoscope is used to bounce high-energy sound waves (ultrasound) off internal tissues or organs and make echoes. The echoes form a picture of body tissues called a sonogram. This procedure is also called endosonography.
  • CT scan (CAT scan): A procedure that makes a series of detailed pictures of areas inside the body, taken from different angles. The pictures are made by a computer linked to an x-ray machine. A dye may be injected into a vein or swallowed to help the organs or tissues show up more clearly. This procedure is also called computed tomography, computerized tomography, or computerized axial tomography.
  • PET scan (positron emission tomography scan): A procedure to find malignant tumor cells in the body. A small amount of radioactive glucose (sugar) is injected into a vein. The PET scanner rotates around the body and makes a picture of where glucose is being used in the body. Malignant tumor cells show up brighter in the picture because they are more active and take up more glucose than normal cells do. A PET scan and CT scan may be done at the same time. This is called a PET-CT.

There are three ways that cancer spreads in the body.

Cancer can spread through tissue, the lymph system, and the blood:

  • Tissue. The cancer spreads from where it began by growing into nearby areas.
  • Lymph system. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the lymph system. The cancer travels through the lymph vessels to other parts of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer spreads from where it began by getting into the blood. The cancer travels through the blood vessels to other parts of the body.

Cancer may spread from where it began to other parts of the body.

When cancer spreads to another part of the body, it is called metastasis. Cancer cells break away from where they began (the primary tumor) and travel through the lymph system or blood.

  • Lymph system. The cancer gets into the lymph system, travels through the lymph vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.
  • Blood. The cancer gets into the blood, travels through the blood vessels, and forms a tumor (metastatic tumor) in another part of the body.

The metastatic tumor is the same type of cancer as the primary tumor. For example, if gastric cancer spreads to the liver, the cancer cells in the liver are actually gastric cancer cells. The disease is metastatic gastric cancer, not liver cancer.

The following stages are used for gastric cancer:

Stage 0 (Carcinoma in Situ)

In stage 0, abnormal cells are found in the inside lining of the mucosa (innermost layer) of the stomach wall. These abnormal cells may become cancer and spread into nearby normal tissue. Stage 0 is also called carcinoma in situ.

Stage I

In stage I, cancer has formed in the inside lining of the mucosa (innermost layer) of the stomach wall. Stage I is divided into stage IA and stage IB, depending on where the cancer has spread.

Stage II

Stage II gastric cancer is divided into stage IIA and stage IIB, depending on where the cancer has spread.

  • Stage IIA: Cancer:
    • has spread to the subserosa (layer of tissue next to the serosa) of the stomach wall; or
    • has spread to the muscle layer of the stomach wall and is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor; or
    • may have spread to the submucosa (layer of tissue next to the mucosa) of the stomach wall and is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor.
  • Stage IIB: Cancer:
    • has spread to the serosa (outermost layer) of the stomach wall; or
    • has spread to the subserosa (layer of tissue next to the serosa) of the stomach wall and is found in 1 or 2 lymph nodes near the tumor; or
    • has spread to the muscle layer of the stomach wall and is found in 3 to 6 lymph nodes near the tumor; or
    • may have spread to the submucosa (layer of tissue next to the mucosa) of the stomach wall and is found in 7 or more lymph nodes near the tumor.

Stage III

Stage III gastric cancer is divided into stage IIIA, stage IIIB, and stage IIIC, depending on where the cancer has spread.

Stage IV

In stage IV, cancer has spread to distant parts of the body.

  • Updated: April 17, 2014