Doctors may offer people with stomach cancer the opportunity to have surgery. This can help to remove the cancer or prevent complications and reduce the side effects of the disease.

Stomach cancer accounts for approximately 1.4% of all cancer cases. Surgery is a common treatment for people with all stages of stomach cancer.

If the cancer has not spread to anywhere else in the body, this surgery offers the best chance for recovery. The type of surgery a person receives depends on the reason for the surgery.

The two main reasons are to remove the cancer or, if the cancer has spread, to help relieve symptoms and prevent further complications.

This article examines some of these surgical options. It also discusses what to expect from stomach cancer surgery, the risks, side effects, life after surgery, and more.

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If the cancer has not spread, a person may receive surgery to remove and cure their stomach cancer.

This can involve removing part of the stomach. Some types of surgery include:

  • Endoscopic resection: For the treatment of early stage cancer. This procedure involves inserting a tube with a camera, known as an endoscope, down the throat and into the stomach. Surgical tools can pass through the tube to remove the tumor and affected areas of the stomach.
  • Subtotal gastrectomy: This involves partial removal of the stomach and lymph nodes. Occasionally, surgeons may also need to remove part of the esophagus, small intestine, spleen, and other nearby organs.
  • Total gastrectomy: For this type of surgery, the surgeon removes the entire stomach, lymph nodes, and other nearby organs. They then reattach the end of the esophagus to the small intestine, allowing for food to move through the intestinal tract.
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Learn more about stomach cancer.

When the cancer has spread to other areas of the body or when doctors cannot completely remove it, a person may receive palliative surgery.

This can help control the cancer, reduce symptoms, and prevent complications.

Examples of palliative surgery for stomach cancer are:

  • Gastric bypass: This helps to prevent lower stomach tumors from blocking food from leaving the stomach. Surgeons attach part of the small intestine to the upper part of the stomach, allowing food to exit through a different route.
  • Subtotal gastrectomy: This involves removing part of the stomach where the cancer is present. It can help reduce bleeding, pain, or blockages.
  • Feeding tube placement: Surgeons may perform this procedure if a person cannot eat or drink enough to get the necessary nutrition. They place a tube through the abdomen into the lower stomach. Liquid nutrition can then enter the body through this tube.
  • Upper endoscopy procedures: This involves a surgeon placing an endoscope down the throat. One procedure can use a laser to remove some parts of the tumor. Another endoscopy procedure can place a stent into the stomach opening. This keeps the stomach open and allows food to flow through.

Prior to surgery for stomach cancer, a doctor will discuss treatment options. They will outline the procedure and make a person aware of any side effects and risks.

During major surgeries, people may be put to sleep by a general anesthetic. However, endoscopic procedures may only require sedation.

Following the surgery, a doctor will take the person into a recovery room. They may need to spend 3–8 days in the hospital following the procedure.

Side effects from stomach cancer surgery include:

These side effects may occur shortly after eating when food travels too quickly through the intestine.

Some of the risks of gastrectomy treatments for stomach cancer include:

All people should receive follow-up care following stomach cancer surgery.

After a person has finished treatment, a doctor may recommend attending follow-up appointments every 3–6 months for the first few years.

They may check for signs of stomach cancer with physical exams or imaging tests and ask questions about the person’s health and recovery.

A person may need to make lifestyle adjustments after surgery. For example, they will need to change their diet post-surgery if the procedure involves full or partial stomach removal.

People may need to eat smaller and more frequent meals. A doctor will advise them about this after the surgery.

The National Cancer Institute states that there are various survivorship clinics available for people who have had cancer.

A doctor may also be able to recommend local cancer support groups, and there are also virtual support groups for people with stomach cancer that Hope for Stomach Cancer hosts.

A person can also visit The American Cancer Society’s website for information on and support for stomach cancer.

In this section, we answer some common questions about stomach cancer surgery.

What is the life expectancy after stomach removal?

A 2021 study discovered the median life expectancy post-surgery was 69 months.

It said this varied according to lymph node activity, cancer stage, and successful removal of the tumor. Fitness and age may also impact life expectancy.

Do you need a colostomy bag for stomach cancer?

A colostomy procedure involves opening a passage from the large intestine to the outside of the body.

A person with stomach cancer does not often receive a colostomy procedure unless there is a blockage or damage to the large intestine.

Therefore, a person will only need to have a colostomy bag if they receive a colostomy procedure.

A surgeon may perform stomach cancer surgery for two main reasons.

One is to remove the tumor if the cancer has not yet spread. The other is to alleviate and control symptoms and prevent complications.

This second type of surgery may occur when the cancer has already spread to other parts of the body.

Following the procedure, a person may need to stay in the hospital for a few days. People should expect to have some post-surgery side effects and to change their diet.