Yep, heartburn is on there.
Let’s get one thing out of the way: Stomach cancer isn’t crazy-common. As a woman, your lifetime odds of getting it are only one in 154, according to the American Cancer Society. That said, it can be dangerous because many of its symptoms feel like totally normal, run-of-the-mill stomach issues—or in some cases, there are no symptoms at all.
If you’re experiencing any (or a combination) of these early signs and symptoms of stomach cancer, it’s best to check in with your doctor or a gastroenterologist to be on the safe side.
1. You’re seeing blood in your stool.
While, yes, this can be a sign of stomach cancer, it’s also linked to tons of other conditions that aren’t cancer-related, says Allyson Ocean, M.D., a gastrointestinal oncologist at Weill Cornell Medicine and New York Presbyterian.
If it is stomach cancer, however, the blood is likely related to inflammation caused by cancer, and tends to show up in more advanced stages of the disease, though it can also show up earlier on.
2. Your stomach hurts all the time.
Ocean says that when patients complain of abdominal pain, they’re usually talking about epigastric pain, which refers to the area right under the bottom center of your ribs.
Pain in that location could be caused by the growth of a cancerous mass somewhere in your stomach, although it could also be dozens of other things, like indigestion, diverticulitis, and even kidney stones. Persistent pain pretty much always warrants a doctor’s visit, so go ahead and make an appointment if you’re having recurrent abdominal pain.
3. You don’t really have an appetite.
Loss of appetite is definitely something to pay attention to—say, if you’ve always been a foodie and now suddenly you’ve lost all interest in eating—and it’s a good idea to get checked out by a GI doctor, says Ocean.
Ulcers, however, can also cause a loss of appetite (they’re not always painful, sometimes you don’t feel them at all), but ulcers are also a risk factor for stomach cancer, so it’s smart to get checked out regardless.
- You have awful heartburn.
Heartburn is kind of complicated, says Ocean, in that it can both be a sign of cancer (it’s often related to the abdominal or epigastric pain) and also a risk factor for it. People with heartburn may have a peptic ulcer, which means they have more acid in their stomachs, which puts them at a higher risk for stomach cancer, says Ocean.
Heartburn can manifest as the telltale burning sensation, nausea, or even chest pain, so it’s not always easy to self-diagnose. If you’ve been popping antacids for weeks on the regular, get yourself checked out by a physician.
5. You’re losing weight without trying.
Weight loss is a sign of stomach cancer partly because of the loss of appetite that often occurs, but it can also independently be a warning sign of disease, says Ocean—and it’s usually one of the first signs that something’s off; especially in a disease like stomach cancer that may not have other noticeable symptoms.
Significant weight loss takes hard work, so if you’re shedding pounds without even trying, don’t ignore it.
6. You’re having trouble swallowing.
If you have a stomach tumor that is extending up into the esophagus, you might experience something called dysphagia, or difficulty swallowing. You might notice this as a feeling that food is getting stuck in your throat, says Ocean, or it might present as coughing or choking while eating or drinking, according to the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG).
In some cases, it may also feel like food comes back up shortly after eating it, per the ACG, which also notes that heartburn will likely accompany difficulty swallowing. Regardless, swallowing is kind of an essential part of being a human, so it’s best to get that checked out ASAP.
7. You’re getting full way sooner than usual while eating.
This is actually a sign of later-stage stomach cancer, but it’s worth noting. Early satiety(a.k.a., getting full super-quick while eating) happens when your stomach muscles can no longer push food through the intestines properly, says Ocean. The stomach becomes distended and people feel stuffed, but in reality it’s just that the food isn’t going anywhere.
This full-too-soon feeling can be caused by a tumor, but can also be caused by a non-cancerous condition called gastroparesis, which happens when a person has the sensation that something is obstructing their stomach, but medical scans don’t show anything.