If you’re a stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, survivor, your relationship with your care team doesn’t stop after treatment has finished. You need ongoing care to keep you healthy, help manage any symptoms, and make sure cancer hasn’t returned.
At Sylvester, you get personal attention and long-term guidance to help you live your best life. We offer complete stomach cancer survivorship services to enhance your well-being – from supporting your emotional health and offering exercise guidance to personal assistance from our medical social workers and much more. You and your family can count on us every step of the way.
What can I expect after stomach cancer treatment?
Your survivorship visits are an essential part of supporting your good health. That’s why you receive a personalized survivorship care plan based on input from your cancer care team. This document provides you and your healthcare providers with an overview of your gastric cancer treatments and offers follow-up visits and testing guidance.
Your survivorship care plan also gives you advice on nutrition, exercise, and potential side effects from stomach cancer and its treatment. Our goal is to make sure you have all the information and support you need to feel your best.
After you’ve finished treatment, you can expect to see your team every three to six months. During your appointments, you’ll usually have a physical exam and talk about any symptoms you’re experiencing. You may also have lab tests or an upper endoscopy exam. You probably won’t have imaging tests unless you’re experiencing symptoms that need further examination.
These appointments focus on all aspects of your health – body, mind, and spirit. They’re an opportunity for you to discuss your concerns and get support from experts who can help. We make sure you know about all the cancer support services and education for you and your family at Sylvester, including cancer support groups.
Managing stomach cancer treatment side effectsAlmost all people with stomach cancer need surgery – either a minimally invasive procedure or traditional gastric surgery. Whether you had a partial gastrectomy (removes part of your stomach) or total gastrectomy (removes your entire stomach), you can expect some digestive problems after surgery.
After gastric surgery, many people have dumping syndrome. This condition can happen when food travels to the intestines too quickly, causing stomach cramping, diarrhea, and lightheadedness. These symptoms usually get better over time, but you may need to take medicine to manage long-term diarrhea symptoms.
Eating smaller, more frequent meals instead of large meals can help ease symptoms. A high-protein, low-carb diet can also relieve gastrointestinal discomfort. You can get one-on-one guidance from a dietitian to prevent symptoms.
Stomach cancer survivors often have nutritional deficiencies, such as anemia, iron deficiency, and B12 deficiency. Another long-term side effect is low bone density, which happens when you don’t get enough calcium, vitamin D, and other vitamins and minerals. Your dietitian will give you dietary advice and recommend nutritional supplements to make sure you get all the necessary nutrients. You should also get regular bone density testing to prevent osteoporosis.
Some gastric cancer survivors need a feeding tube placed through a small opening in the lower belly with minor surgery. The tube delivers liquid nutrients directly into the small intestine (jejunostomy tube or J-tube) or the lower part of the stomach (gastrostomy tube or G-tube).
Pain and nausea
Our dietitians can create a personalized eating plan that helps relieve pain and nausea, which are common after gastric cancer treatment. We offer a full range of services, from acupuncture and massage therapy to comprehensive cancer rehabilitation. Our specialists work as a team to find approaches that work best for you.
Radiation therapy side effects
Radiation therapy for stomach cancer can cause side effects like skin irritation, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting, and tiredness – they can be more noticeable if you have both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. Typically, these symptoms go away a few weeks after treatment. Your team will develop a plan to relieve any lingering symptoms.
It's common for gastric cancer survivors to lose weight. Your appetite may decrease, you might feel full after small amounts of food, or your surgery may have affected your ability to digest food. Dumping syndrome can also cause weight loss. Your dietitian can offer diet plans and eating tips that can help you maintain a healthy weight.
You'll need to change how you eat after a gastrectomy because your stomach can’t hold as much as it did before gastric surgery. Some of these changes may be temporary or permanent. New eating habits also help minimize stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, and indigestion – common symptoms for stomach cancer survivors.
Follow these tips to feel more comfortable after meals:
- Eat six or more small meals daily. Start with small servings of food, about half a cup to 1-cup portions.
- Chew your food thoroughly, and eat slowly. This lets you stop before you get too full and makes the food more easily digestible. Eat all your meals sitting upright, which can help prevent indigestion.
- Eat your last meal of the day at least two hours before bedtime.
- Don't drink more than 4 ounces of liquid with meals, including soup and protein shakes, so that you don’t get too full.
- Include protein with every meal, such as eggs, meats, chicken or turkey, fish, dairy products, nuts, or tofu.
- Avoid spicy foods soon after your surgery, and stay away from high-fat or sugary foods if they cause digestive problems.
- Drink at least eight 8-ounce glasses of water daily. Don't drink an hour before or after your meals to prevent getting full. Avoid carbonated or sparkling water if it makes you feel full.
It’s not uncommon to have a food intolerance you didn’t have before gastric surgery, such as sugar, fat, or dairy (lactose) intolerance. Our dietitians are here to answer your questions and make suggestions.
Additionally, it’s helpful to keep a food log that records what, how much, and when you eat, and any symptoms you notice after eating. This can help us discover foods or eating habits that cause discomfort.
Preventing stomach cancer recurrence
Unfortunately, there's no way to stop stomach cancer from coming back. But certain habits have been linked with lowering your risk of different types of gastric cancer, such as:
- Eating a nutritious diet with plenty of plant-based foods like fruits, vegetables, and whole grains
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Exercising regularly
- Avoiding smoking and alcohol use – or limiting to no more than one drink daily for women or two for men
How can I learn more about long-term follow-up care for stomach cancer survivors?
Follow-up care is essential to keeping you healthy and ensuring you have the highest quality of life possible. To learn more about our survivorship care program and personalized services for stomach cancer survivors, email us at SCCCSURVIVORSHIP@miami.edu.