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Though we all get stomachaches from time to time, pain isn’t typically an early symptom of stomach cancer. So what should you be on the lookout for instead? Here’s the lowdown on stomach cancer, according to general surgeon Kevin El-Hayek, MD, FACS.

Early symptoms are commonly overlooked

Early stomach cancer symptoms are typically so unremarkable that they go completely unnoticed.

Some of these early symptoms include:

  • Bloating.
  • Heartburn.
  • Nausea.
  • A general feeling of discomfort.

Because these symptoms tend to be dismissed as normal GI issues — and they are for most people — when stomach cancer is finally diagnosed, it’s often in the advanced stages.

Signs to watch for

  1. You unexpectedly lose weight and your appetite plummets. “People no longer feel hungry and ultimately start losing weight without trying,” says Dr. El-Hayek. “That’s probably the most concerning symptom.”
  2. You’re seriously fatigued. Dr. El-Hayek says this could be from a slow blood loss which, coupled with unexpected weight loss, can be a sign of cancer. Blood loss can also lead to anemia, a low red blood cell count, that’s likely the source of your exhaustion.
  3. You have blood in your stool or vomit. This is much less common, but it can happen if you’re losing a lot of blood.
  4. You feel full, even after you’ve only eaten a small amount.
  5. Your bowel habits have changed. Maybe you’re experiencing recurrent bouts of diarrhea or constipation that are out of the ordinary.
  6. Gastrointestinal symptoms that don’t go away. For example, you’ve had nausea or abdominal discomfort that lasts for more than a couple days.
  7. You have GI symptoms that you haven’t experienced before. Reflux — when the contents of your stomach come back up into your esophagus — is a good example.

“These are all signs that you should probably go see your primary care doctor to see if you warrant further testing,” advises Dr. El-Hayek. Most of the time, these symptoms are caused by something else, but it’s best to get them checked out so that if you do need treatment, you can get it as soon as possible.

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