Chemotherapy in gastric cancer: a review and updated meta-analysis

Eur J Surg. 2002;168(11):597-608. doi: 10.1080/11024150201680005.


The five years survival rate for patients with gastric cancer is 15-25%. With the aim of improving survival, chemotherapy has been used in different adjuvant settings. Similarly, but with the aim of improving quality of life and prolonging life, chemotherapy has been used extensively in metastatic disease. In this review we have included studies of systemic and intraperitoneal chemotherapy given before, during or after operation and for advanced disease. A meta-analysis has been made on the 21 randomised studies that used adjuvant systemic chemotherapy postoperatively. A significant survival benefit for the patients treated postoperatively compared with controls was identified (odds ratio (OR) 0.84, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.74 to 0.96). When western and Asian studies were analysed separately we found no survival benefit for the treated patients in the western groups (OR 0.96 (95 CI 0.83 to 1.12)). Flaws in the conduct of several trials made it difficult to draw firm conclusions, including the exclusion of a small but clinically meaningful survival benefit. Preoperative or neoadjuvant chemotherapy has shown effects in some patients, but no significant benefit was found in the few randomised studies. The few studies that reported intraperitoneal therapy showed no detectable survival benefit either. In patients with advanced disease, four small randomised studies found significantly longer survival in the treated patients. The survival benefit is in the range of 3-9 months, and there were also improvements of the quality of life. Several drug combinations have been tested, however, with no confirmed superiority for a particular regimen.

Conclusions: Adjuvant chemotherapy cannot be recommended as a routine because of the lack of confirmed beneficial effects. Some patients with advanced disease will have a clinically important benefit from palliative chemotherapy, so this can be recommended for patients who are otherwise in good health.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis

MeSH terms

  • Antineoplastic Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Antineoplastic Combined Chemotherapy Protocols
  • Chemotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Humans
  • Palliative Care
  • Postoperative Care
  • Preoperative Care
  • Stomach Neoplasms / drug therapy*
  • Stomach Neoplasms / mortality
  • Stomach Neoplasms / surgery
  • Survival Rate


  • Antineoplastic Agents