Recently Diagnosed with Stomach Cancer? What Are Your Best Long-Term Treatment Options?

If you've recently received the shocking and unsettling diagnosis of stomach cancer, you may find yourself constantly locked in a mental struggle between processing what you've just been told and trying to decide the best treatment plan to extend your life (while preserving your quality of life). Fortunately, advances in cancer treatment have provided more options than ever before. Read on to learn more about the best oncology options to provide you with a positive long-term prognosis.

What are the basic treatment options for stomach cancer?

As with most other types of cancer, the primary treatment options for stomach cancer include surgical removal of the affected area, chemotherapy treatment, and radiation. All three of these methods can be effective in reducing the size of any tumors by excising or killing cancer cells, but the different treatments can have dramatically different lifestyle effects.

Surgical removal of the cancerous tumors (often a gastrectromy of gastroenterostomy) is a quick procedure with a lengthy recovery. Depending upon the size and location of your tumors, you may find yourself with quite a large abdominal incision after the procedure is finished, and recovering from the surgery can prevent you from being able to do much or even drive yourself in the weeks following your surgery.

Chemotherapy involves getting regular intravenous infusions of a chemical cocktail designed to target cancer cells for death. Some chemotherapy regimens also include oral medication or even hormones. These treatments can also be quite effective in shrinking cancers but can take a toll on your body—from hair loss to relentless nausea, vomiting, and changes in smell and taste. 

Radiation therapy also focuses on shrinking tumors, but it does so through the use of targeted beams of radiation or even implanted radioactive "seeds" rather than a chemical cocktail. Radiation treatment can leave you feeling exhausted and may also result in hair loss. 

How can you decide which treatment option is right for you? 

Your oncologist is in the best position to make treatment recommendations based on the speed with which your cancer is growing and the specific type you have. However, your current physical condition and your ability to handle the side effects of your various treatment options may impact your treatment path.

For example, if you're young and in relatively good health, you may be strong enough to combine several treatment methods—surgery and chemotherapy, chemotherapy and radiation, or even all three—to improve your odds of a full recovery. If you find that the side effects of one or more of these treatments is simply too much to bear, you may be able to discontinue this portion of your treatment and still have plenty of protection against cancer growth.

On the other hand, if you have comorbidities or other health problems, you may want to give some thought to your health history when deciding how to proceed. Getting midway through a chemotherapy regimen and having to stop because of the side effects can leave you vulnerable to cancer regrowth, so choosing the option with the fewest or least disruptive side effects can be the best choice even if your total treatment time is longer.