The usual treatments for stomach cancer are surgery, the main treatment, and chemotherapyRadiotherapy is rarely used. which is occasionally used either before or after surgery. Chemotherapy may also be used if surgery is not possible.
In most hospitals a team of specialists will decide the treatment that is best for you.
This multidisciplinary team (MDT) will include a surgeon who specialises in gastrointestinal cancers, an oncologist (cancer specialist) and may include a number of other healthcare professionals, such as a:
psychologist or counsellor.
Together they will be able to advise you on the best plan of treatment, taking into account a number of factors. These include your age, general health, the type and size of the tumour, and whether it has spread beyond the stomach.
If two treatments are equally effective for your type and stage of cancer, your doctors may offer you a choice of treatments. Sometimes people find it very hard to make a decision. Make sure that you have enough information about the different treatment options, what is involved and the side effects you might have, so that you can decide which is the right treatment for you.
Remember to ask questions about any aspects that you don’t understand or feel worried about. You may find it helpful to discuss the benefits and disadvantages of each option with your cancer specialist and also with the nurses at Cancerbackup.
If you have any questions about your treatment, don't be afraid to ask your doctor or nurse. It often helps to make a list of questions and to take a close friend or relative with you.
Some people find it reassuring to have another medical opinion to help them decide about their treatment. Most doctors will be pleased to refer you to another specialist for a second opinion if you feel this would be helpful.
Giving your consent
Before you have any treatment, your doctor will explain the aims of the treatment to you. They will usually ask you to sign a form saying that you give your permission (consent) for the hospital staff to give you the treatment. No medical treatment can be given without your consent, and before you are asked to sign the form you should be given full information about:
the type and extent of the treatment you are advised to have
the advantages and disadvantages of the treatment
any other treatments that may be available
any significant risks or side effects of the treatment.
If you do not understand what you have been told, let the staff know straight away so that they can explain again. Some cancer treatments are complex, so it is very common for people to need to hear explanations more than once. People often feel that the hospital staff are too busy to answer their questions, but it is important for you to understand how the treatment is likely to affect you and the staff should be willing to make time for you to ask questions.
You can always ask for more time to decide about the treatment, if you feel that you can't make a decision when it is first explained to you. You are also free to choose not to have the treatment, and the staff can explain what may happen if you do not have it.
Benefits and disadvantages of treatment
Many people are frightened at the thought of having cancer treatments, because of the potential side effects. Some people ask what would happen if they do not have any treatment.
Although the treatments can cause side effects, these can often be well controlled with medicines.
Treatment can be given for different reasons and the potential benefits will vary for each person.
Early-stage stomach cancer
In people with early-stage stomach cancer, surgery is often done with the aim of curing the cancer. Occasionally, additional treatments are given to help reduce the risks of the cancer coming back.
Advanced stomach cancer
If the cancer is at a more advanced stage, treatment may only be able to control it, giving an improvement in symptoms and a better quality of life. However, for some people the treatment will have no effect upon the cancer and they will get the side effects without any of the benefit.
If you have been offered treatment that is intended to cure your cancer, deciding whether to accept the treatment may not be difficult. However, if a cure is not possible and the treatment is being given to control the cancer for a period of time, it may be more difficult to decide what to do.
Making decisions about treatment in these circumstances is always difficult, and you may need to discuss in detail with your doctor whether you wish to have treatment. If you choose not to, you can still be given supportive (palliative) care, with medicines to control any symptoms.