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What are stomach and oesophageal cancers?

Stomach cancer develops when cells in any part of the stomach grow and divide in an abnormal way. Tumours can begin anywhere in the stomach, although most start in the stomach’s inner layer (mucosa). This type of cancer is called adenocarcinoma of the stomach (also known as gastric cancer).

If it is not found and treated early, stomach cancer can spread to nearby lymph nodes or to other parts of the body, such as the liver and lungs. It may also spread to the lining of the wall of the abdomen (peritoneum). Rarely, it can grow through the stomach wall into nearby organs such as the pancreas and bowel.

Is stomach cancer common?

About 2400 people are diagnosed with stomach cancer in Australia each year. Men are twice as likely as women to be diagnosed with stomach cancer. It is more common in people over 60, but it can occur at any age.

Oesophageal cancer begins when abnormal cells develop in the innermost layer (mucosa) of the oesophagus. A tumour can start anywhere along the oesophagus. There are two main types:

Oesophageal adenocarcinoma – This often starts near the gastro-oesophageal junction and is linked with Barrett’s oesophagus. Adenocarcinomas are the most common form of oesophageal cancer in Australia.

Oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma – This starts in the thin, flat cells of the mucosa, which are called squamous cells. It often begins in the middle and upper part of the oesophagus. In Australia, oesophageal squamous cell carcinoma is less common than oesophageal adenocarcinoma.

If it is not found and treated early, oesophageal cancer can spread to nearby lymph nodes or to other parts of the body, most commonly the liver and lungs. It can also grow through the oesophageal wall and into nearby structures.

Is oesophageal cancer common?

This is an uncommon cancer. In Australia, about 1650 people are diagnosed with oesophageal cancer each year. Men are much more likely than women to be diagnosed with this cancer.

Some less common types of cancer can start in the stomach and oesophagus. These include small cell carcinomas, lymphomas, neuroendocrine tumours and gastrointestinal stromal tumours. These types of cancer aren’t discussed on these pages and treatment may be different. For more information, call Cancer Council 13 11 20.

Some cancers start at the point where the stomach meets the oesophagus (called the gastro-oesophageal junction). Depending on the type of gastro-oesophageal cancer, it may be treated similarly to stomach cancer or oesophageal cancer.

Featured resources

Oesophagogastric cancer - Your guide to best cancer care

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Understanding Stomach and Oesophageal Cancers

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed October 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Peter Blyth, Consumer; Jeff Bull, Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Nurse Consultant, Cancer Services, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; Mick Daws, Consumer; Dr Steven Leibman, Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper Gastrointestinal Oncology Service, and Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian: Upper Gastrointestinal, Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Letchemi Valautha, Consumer; Lesley Woods, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.