Medical Q&As

Stomach cancer - prognosis?

My mother who is 81 years old was diagnosed with stomach cancer in June 2001. The consultant told us that nothing could be done for her because of her age and the size and location of the tumour. It seems so unfair that nothing could be done for her as we were prepared to take her anywhere in the world for a cure. She is now on pain killing drugs and continues to lose weight and strength. My question is; could anything have been done to save my dear mam?

The realities of life are sometimes harsh and I can fully empathise with your sense of life being unfair. Despite the many astonishing advances of medicine in recent years the prognosis for stomach cancer remains poor. Stomach cancer is often spread well beyond the naked eye limits of the tumour and has usually spread microscopically into the gullet, small intestine, pancreas and liver. I think that the correct and humane decision has been made in relation to your mother. The best international figure that I have read for 5-year-survival rates after radical extensive surgery for stomach cancer is only 20%, which means that 80% of the people that underwent such surgery did not survive 5 years. The 5-year-survival rate for those undergoing less extensive surgery is even worse and is less than 5%. If your mother were younger and had a young family to support her maternal instinct might have driven her to take her chances despite such odds. At 81 years of age I cannot see any justification for subjecting her to heroic surgery. Even though she cannot be cured there is much to be done in providing your mother with good quality care. Rather than focussing on the harshness of her prognosis I think you should make the most of the special time that is left to both of you and live life to the fullest extent that is possible. Donít waste a single day.