How Do You Test for Stomach Cancer?

  • Medical Reviewer: Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD
    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Charles Patrick Davis, MD, PhD

    Dr. Charles "Pat" Davis, MD, PhD, is a board certified Emergency Medicine doctor who currently practices as a consultant and staff member for hospitals. He has a PhD in Microbiology (UT at Austin), and the MD (Univ. Texas Medical Branch, Galveston). He is a Clinical Professor (retired) in the Division of Emergency Medicine, UT Health Science Center at San Antonio, and has been the Chief of Emergency Medicine at UT Medical Branch and at UTHSCSA with over 250 publications.

Ask the experts

I've been feeling stomach pain, bloating, and some vomiting for a couple weeks now, and I'm worried. How do you test for stomach cancer?

Doctor's response

If you have symptoms that suggest stomach cancer, your doctor will check to see whether they are due to cancer or to some other cause. Your doctor may refer you to a gastroenterologist, a doctor whose specialty is diagnosing and treating digestive problems.

Your doctor will ask about your personal and family health history. You may have blood or other lab tests. You also may have:

  • Physical exam: Your doctor feels your abdomen for fluid, swelling, or other changes. Your doctor also will check for swollen lymph nodes.
  • Endoscopy: Your doctor uses a thin, lighted tube (endoscope) to look into your stomach. Your doctor first numbs your throat with an anesthetic spray. You also may receive medicine to help you relax. The tube is passed through your mouth and esophagus to the stomach.
  • Biopsy: An endoscope has a tool for removing tissue. Your doctor uses the endoscope to remove tissue from the stomach. A pathologist checks the tissue under a microscope for cancer cells. A biopsy is the only sure way to know if cancer cells are present.

You may want to ask your doctor these questions before having a biopsy:

  • How will the biopsy be done?
  • Will it hurt?
  • Are there any risks? What are the chances of infection or bleeding after the biopsy?
  • When can I resume my normal diet?
  • How soon will I know the results?
  • If I do have cancer, who will talk to me about next steps? When?

Read our full medical article on stomach cancer, treatment, and prognosis.

SOURCE: U.S. National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute. Last updated: 10/15/2009

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Reviewed on 9/28/2017
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