Diagnosing Stomach Cancer
If stomach cancer is suspected by a doctor, he will usually hand-over the patient to a gastroenterologist, who is a specialist in digestive problems. The gastroenterologist will usually start by asking his new patient about the symptoms that seem to be the cause for concern, together with questions about their family health history.
After a thorough physical examination of the patient, which may include: feeling the abdomen for fluids, swellings, swollen lymph nodes, or abnormalities, blood tests together with other lab test may be ordered. These test may include:
1. Endoscopy (Fibergastroscopy) – This is where a thin lighted tube (endoscope) is inserted through the mouth (after the throat has been numbed with anesthetic spray), the esophagus, and into the stomach region. The endoscope is capable of detecting early gastric cancer, together with benign (non cancerous) and malignant (cancerous) ulcers, and the different types of gastric cancers. The endoscope also has a tool attached to it that is capable of taking tissue samples from the stomach which can then be analyzed.
2. X-ray – Generally, an X-ray will be able to show if the cancerous cells are confined to the mucosa (top layer of cells of the stomach), and the submucosa (thin layer of muscle of the stomach below the lamina propria [layer of connective tissue]) in early stage stomach cancer by using electromagnetic radiation. X-rays are commonly used in the diagnosis of many types of cancers.
3. Computed Tomography (CT Scan) – A widely used high-resolution three-dimensional imaging scanner that uses X-rays to create cross-sectional images of the inside of a patients stomach; showing whether the gastric wall has been invaded by cancerous cells or not. The CT scan may also be used to show whether the cancer has metastasized through the blood channels.
4. Endoscopic Ultrasound – Used to diagnose the TNM staging of stomach cancer by sending sound waves that bounce off the stomach tissue and other organs. These sound waves are then converted by a computer into detailed images showing the layers of the stomach from the echoes caused. The images detail how much the stomach has been invaded by the cancer and to what degree.
5. Laparoscopy – This is where a surgeon makes a tiny incision in the abdomen and inserts a laparoscope (a small lighted tube) to take tissue samples, or to remove lymph nodes. This will give the gastroenterologist a precise staging of the cancer. Once the correct staging has been diagnosed, an adequate treatment plan may be offered.
Any of these diagnostic methods can be used on a patient, although much will depend on which stage the gastroenterologist believes the stomach cancer to be at.