Health

After Toby Keith's death, doctors say stomach cancer is easy to miss

Symptoms of stomach cancer can be overlooked as something less serious. Most diagnoses come after the cancer has spread.

Doctor meets with patient
Toby Keith performs at the iHeartCountry Festival on Oct. 30, 2021.
Jack Plunkett / Invision / AP
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A day after country icon Toby Keith lost his battle to stomach cancer, doctors are warning that signs of the disease can be easy to miss.

The singer died at 62, after being diagnosed in the fall of 2021.

Stomach cancer begins in the lining of the stomach and progresses slowly over time. But there usually aren't signs in the beginning.

"Early on, stomach cancer usually doesn't have symptoms, making it hard to detect. Symptoms usually begin after the cancer has spread," says the National Cancer Institute (NCI).

In earlier stages, people with stomach cancer could experience indigestion, feeling bloated after eating, mild nausea, loss of appetite or heartburn, according to NCI. The symptoms are ones that may be overlooked.

"A lot of these things are relatively innocuous. But of course with a cancer, that's how it gets you," Dr. Fabian Johnston, the division chief of gastrointestinal oncology at Johns Hopkins Medicine, told NBC News.

He said doctors and patients may be inclined to dismiss the symptoms as something less serious.

The symptoms of advanced stomach cancer are the ones more likely to signal a problem. They include bloody stool, vomiting, weight loss for no reason, stomach pain, jaundice and trouble swallowing, according to NCI.

There is no standard screening for stomach cancer, which would help detect it early.

People with a higher risk for stomach cancer could benefit from an upper endoscopy, which is a procedure that looks inside the esophagus, stomach and duodenum (part of the small intestine) to check for abnormal areas, NCI says. 

The average age of stomach cancer diagnosis is 68, according to the American Cancer Society. Men are at higher risk than women of contracting the disease.

@scrippsnews Toby Keith’s battle with stomach cancer is bringing the disease into the spotlight. Keith, 62, recently lost his life after being diagnosed with the #cancer in 2021. ⚠️ Here are some of the symptoms you should NEVER ignore. #TobyKeith ♬ original sound - Scripps News