Stomach cancer

Surgery

Stomach cancer

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Surgery involves removing tissues or organs from the body. The type of surgery you have depends on your cancer. You may also hear surgery called an operation or a procedure.

Every operation is different. Ask your surgeon about what to expect.

Stomach cancer surgery can be complex and should be done at a specialist centre.

See our Canrefer website for a list of specialist centres in NSW. 

What you need to know

Types of stomach cancer surgery

The main purpose of surgery is to remove the cancer from the stomach. The type of surgery will depend on the size of the cancer, where it is in your stomach and your general health.

Endoscopic resection

  • This is done when the cancer is found at an early stage and hasn’t spread.
  • It involves using a long flexible tube (endoscope) that has a light and camera on the end.
  • Special instruments can be passed along the endoscope to remove the cancer.
  • It usually done under sedation and only requires an overnight stay in hospital.

Gastrectomy

  • This is surgery to remove part or all of the stomach.
  • It is major surgery.
  • You will have a general anaesthetic.

Where you have stomach surgery

Surgery for stomach cancer should be done at a hospital that specialises in this type of surgery. This may involve some travel.

Your surgeon will discuss with you when and where you can have your operation, and any costs involved. They will also give you instructions about what to do before and after your surgery.

The surgical team

Health professionals who work as part of the surgical team include:

  • surgeon
  • anaesthetist
  • nurse
  • allied health professional.

What to ask or talk about

Possible side effects of stomach surgery

Your surgeon will discuss any risks of the surgery with you before your operation. Most hospitals will also give you written information about the surgery and who to contact if you have any concerns.

Possible side effects and complications from any surgery include:

  • pain
  • infection
  • bleeding
  • lymphoedema (tissue swelling)
  • tiredness (fatigue)
  • loss of appetite
  • blood clots.

Possible side effects of surgery for stomach cancer include:

  • Fluid leak (anastomotic leak) - an anastomosis is where 2 parts of the gut are joined together. Sometimes this join can come apart and create a leak resulting in fever, chills and abdominal pain.
  • Lung problems – from infection (pneumonia), a collapsed lung or fluid in the space around the lungs (pleural effusion). If this happens you can feel short of breath or get a cough.
  • Weight loss – due to difficulty absorbing food.
  • Not getting enough nutrients – if the part of the stomach that absorbs nutrients is removed.  You will need to take supplements.
  • Dumping syndrome – when food isn’t digested properly and passes through the stomach too quickly. This can cause stomach cramps and diarrhoea after eating.
  • Nausea and vomiting – can happen if the nerves to the stomach are damaged during surgery. Also, the anaesthetic and pain medication can cause nausea and vomiting.
  • Bringing up food or bile –due to the changes in the stomach and how food is digested.
  • Heartburn – from the removal of the valve (sphincter) that stops food and fluid coming up from the stomach.

The surgical team looking after you during and after your operation will take care to reduce your risk of side effects, and treat any that you get.

Every operation is different. Ask your surgeon about what to expect and see our checklist of questions to ask.

checklist Checklists

Use our checklists to find helpful tips or questions to ask.

Next steps

Preparing for surgery

Before surgery, you will need to sign a consent form. It is important you understand what you are consenting to and the possible risks of the surgery.

Some things you should know are:

  • whether you need to have tests and a preoperative assessment
  • whether you need to change or stop any medications, e.g. blood thinners like aspirin
  • when you have to stop eating and drinking
  • when you have to be there
  • whether you need time off work
  • whether you need someone to care for you at home after surgery (if you are having day surgery you will need someone to drive you home).
If you smoke, you should stop before any operation as your risk of complications from surgery is higher.

Where to get help

There are people you can talk to for more information or support.

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