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First Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

author image Pat Stanfill Edens, PhD,
Pat Stanfill Edens writes on health, cancer and management, and has more than 125 publications to her credit. She is an internationally recognized health care management consultant, with more than 35 years of experience. She writes for reference books, texts, journals and the Web.
First Signs and Symptoms of Stomach Cancer
Young woman with a stomach ache. Photo Credit: Brankica Tekic/iStock/Getty Images

Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, develops in the tissues lining the stomach. According to the National Cancer Society, approximately 22,220 cases of stomach cancer will be diagnosed in 2014. There are no known exact causes of stomach cancer. Things that increase the risk of gastric cancer include peptic ulcers caused by H. pylori bacteria, inflammation of the stomach, smoking, a family history of stomach cancer, and a lack of exercise, a poor diet and obesity. Early stomach cancer often does not cause symptoms, but symptoms increase as the cancer grows. Having these symptoms does not always indicate cancer.

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Pain or Discomfort

A feeling of fullness or tightness in the abdomen may be a first sign of gastric cancer. Pressure or occasional sharp pains, excessive burping or a feeling of general discomfort may occur. Heartburn and indigestion is common. Eating may increase the pain or discomfort. People with stomach cancer may have trouble swallowing. As the disease progresses, swallowing becomes even more difficult as the cancer grows. If the cancer is high in the stomach, swallowing troubles occur sooner.

Nausea and Vomiting

Nausea and vomiting indicates many different problems that can range from a virus, food poisoning or an ulcer to something more serious like stomach cancer. If nausea and vomiting do not go away or get increasingly severe, or if there is blood in the vomit, contact the doctor.

Weight Loss and Bloating

Losing weight without trying may be a sign of stomach cancer. A loss of appetite or not wanting to eat certain foods may develop over time. A feeling of being full even when still hungry may limit eating leading to weight loss. As the cancer progresses, the stomach or abdomen may feel bloated. Swelling of the abdomen may indicate fluid buildup or tumor growth. It may look larger, or distended, even when no rapid weight gain occurs.


Blood present in vomit or bowel movements can be a sign of stomach cancer. Bleeding that starts in the stomach may be seen as bright red blood in vomit, vomit that looks like coffee grounds, bowel movements that are black or tarry or have bright or dark red blood coating the stool.

Overall Decline in Health

People who normally are very active with lots of energy may feel tired or unable to keep up with their normal activities. Vague, non-specific complaints about not feeling well should be investigated to determine the cause. An overall decline in health can be a sign of many problems, including stomach cancer.

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