Surgery is the most common treatment for stomach cancer. The usual operation is called a gastrectomy. There are two types:
Total gastrectomy is removal of the entire stomach. After a total gastrectomy, the esophagus is connected directly to the small intestine.
Partial or subtotal gastrectomy is removal of just part of the stomach. After a partial gastrectomy, the remaining portion of the stomach is connected to the esophagus or the small intestine, depending on which part of the stomach was removed.
Because cancer can spread through the lymphatic system, lymph nodes near the tumor are usually removed and tested for cancer cells. If cancer cells are found in the lymph nodes, the disease may have spread to other parts of the body.
Preparing For Stomach Cancer Surgery
Gastrectomy, whether total or partial, is a major surgery. It is performed under general anesthesia, in a hospital operating room.
Depending on the doctor's orders and other factors, the person may be admitted to the hospital the day of the surgery or the night before.
Food and water will be restricted for at least eight hours prior to surgery. The doctor will decide whether your usual medications will be continued, or if other medications will be used.
After Stomach Cancer Surgery
After the surgery, activity is limited to allow time for healing. For the first few days after the operation, the person is fed intravenously (through a vein), but within several days, most people are ready for liquids, followed by soft, then solid, foods.
Those who have had their entire stomach removed will no longer absorb vitamin B12, which is necessary for healthy blood and nerves, so regular injections of this vitamin will be necessary.
Nutrition After Stomach Cancer Surgery
Some people have temporary or permanent difficulty digesting certain foods after surgery, so a change of diet is usually necessary. Some will need to follow a special diet for a time, while others will have to make permanent changes.
The doctor or a nutrition specialist will explain any necessary dietary changes, and help with the transition.
After surgery for stomach cancer, people may experience nausea, cramps, diarrhea, or even dizziness when food and/or liquid enters the small intestine too quickly. This is called dumping syndrome.
Dumping syndrome is treated by changing the diet. Foods containing high amounts of sugar usually make this condition worse, so such foods should be eliminated or greatly reduced in the diet.
People with the dumping syndrome are advised to:
Eat several small meals during the day rather than large meals.
Avoid foods that contain lots of sugar.
Eat plenty of high-protein foods.
Reduce or even eliminate liquid at mealtimes.
The symptoms usually go away in three to 12 months, but they may continue indefinitely.