Supportive care for stomach cancer

Last medical review:

Supportive care helps people meet the physical, practical, emotional and spiritual challenges of stomach cancer. It is an important part of cancer care. There are many programs and services available to help meet the needs and improve the quality of life of people living with cancer and their loved ones, especially after treatment has ended.

Recovering from stomach cancer and adjusting to life after treatment is different for each person, depending on the stage of the cancer, the organs and tissues removed during surgery, the type of treatment and many other factors. The end of cancer treatment may bring mixed emotions. Even though treatment has ended, there may be other issues to deal with, such as coping with long-term side effects. A person who has been treated for stomach cancer may have the following concerns.

Self-esteem and body image

How a person feels about themselves is called self-esteem. Body image is how a person sees their own body. Stomach cancer and its treatments can affect a person's self-esteem and body image. Often this is because cancer or cancer treatments may result in body changes, such as:

  • scars
  • hair loss
  • skin changes
  • changes in body weight
  • needing a feeding tube

Some of these changes can be temporary. Others will last for a long time or be permanent.

Find out more about coping with body image and self-esteem worries.

Blockage in the stomach

Sometimes advanced stomach cancer can grow large enough to block the stomach so that food can't pass from the esophagus to the stomach or from the stomach to the small intestine. A blockage can be managed by:

  • placing a stent to bypass the tumour and allow food to pass
  • radiation therapy to shrink a tumour and relieve a blockage
  • laser surgery to shrink a tumour and relieve a blockage

Nutrition problems

People with stomach cancer often have nutritional problems related to the stomach cancer or treatment for stomach cancer. Nutritional problems include:

  • weight loss
  • feeling full after eating or drinking
  • not getting enough vitamins and minerals

The healthcare team, including a registered dietitian, can help you maintain nutrition during treatment and deal with any side effects.

Find out more about nutrition and stomach cancer.

Indigestion

Indigestion is when there is pain or discomfort in the upper abdomen. It is sometimes called an upset stomach. Indigestion can be a side effect of stomach surgery. The signs and symptoms of indigestion include heartburn, burping (belching), bloating, discomfort in the chest, and gastroesophageal reflux (stomach contents back up into the esophagus). Indigestion may be managed by:

  • changing your diet, such as avoiding spicy and acidic foods, alcohol and carbonated (fizzy) drinks
  • sitting upright after eating and drinking
  • keeping your head and shoulders elevated when lying down or sleeping
  • using antacids as prescribed by the healthcare team

Pain

Pain associated with stomach cancer can be related to surgery, the location of the tumour and the effect the tumour has on other structures (such as nearby tissues and organs, nerves and blood vessels) as the cancer grows larger or spreads.

Pain management is an important part of improving the quality of life for a person with stomach cancer. Pain medicines are commonly used to treat the pain. There are many types of pain medicines. Your doctor will determine which type and dose will work best for you.

Sometimes surgery may be used to treat pain caused by a blockage in the stomach. Surgery may involve placing a stent to bypass the blockage.

Radiation therapy can also help relieve pain by shrinking a tumour that is pressing on a nerve or other organ.

Physical, psychological and complementary therapies can also be used to manage pain. These include massage, relaxation methods and deep breathing.

Find out more about pain.

Fatigue

Many people with stomach cancer have extreme tiredness (fatigue). Fatigue may be caused by the cancer or cancer treatment. Fatigue can also be made worse by having trouble eating and poor nutrition. It can be hard to cope when you feel very tired and don't have a lot of energy, especially for a while after treatment or if the cancer is advanced.

Find out more about fatigue.

Dumping syndrome

Dumping syndrome occurs when food moves too quickly from the stomach into the small intestine. This may occur after surgery for stomach cancer if all or part of the stomach has been removed. Dumping syndrome can lead to nausea and vomiting, diarrhea, sweating and becoming flushed after eating. These symptoms usually get better over time.

Find out more about dumping syndrome.

Questions to ask about supportive care

To make decisions that are right for you, ask your healthcare team questions about supportive care.

Expert review and references

  • Michael Sanatani, MD, FRCPC
  • American Cancer Society. After Stomach Cancer Treatment. 2017: www.cancer.org.
  • Kanth, R. Medscape Reference: Dumping Syndrome. 2019: www.medscape.com.
  • PDQ® Adult Treatment Editorial Board . Fatigue (PDQ®) – Health Professional Version . Bethesda, MD : National Cancer Institute ; 2021 : .

Nutrition and stomach cancer

People with stomach cancer may have problems eating and digesting food.