If the cancer has not spread outside the stomach, a typical treatment approach includes chemotherapy followed by surgery to remove the tumor. In many cases, chemotherapy after surgery is recommended, as well.
Research has shown that this approach of using chemotherapy before and after surgery is associated with improved survival when compared to just surgery alone. That’s because with stomach cancer, some tiny cancer cells that may be difficult for a surgeon to see can be effectively eliminated by chemotherapy. Chemotherapy before the surgery also is helpful because it can shrink the tumor, making surgical removal easier.
Chemotherapy drugs used for stomach cancer have improved a great deal in the past 15 to 20 years. Before that, not many chemotherapy agents existed that were proven to be effective in treating stomach cancer. But stomach cancer is usually quite responsive to many of the newer drugs. With the choices available now, doctors are often able to pick a chemotherapy drug that is aggressive against the cancer while minimizing side effects such as nausea, vomiting, weakness and hair loss.
After surgery to remove the cancer and follow-up chemotherapy, your mother will likely have checkup appointments periodically for several years to make sure the cancer is gone. But for now, if she hasn’t already done so, it may be helpful for her to have a conversation with her oncologist to discuss her overall treatment plan. That will give her a chance to ask questions and better understand the long-term outlook for her specific situation. — Robert McWilliams, M.D., Medical Oncology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.