About stomach cancer

What should people know about stomach cancer?

The stomach is a J-shaped organ that is part of the digestive system. It processes foods that are eaten and helps pass waste material out of the body.

In the past, stomach cancer was one of the most common cancers among New Yorkers, but this is no longer the case. Stomach cancer rates have been declining over the past 40 years. Each year in New York State, about 1,200 men and about 800 women are diagnosed with cancer of the stomach. Over 450 men and over 300 women in New York die of the disease each year.

Who gets stomach cancer?

Stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, occurs most often in older people and is rare in people under the age of 50. Men are more likely to get and have a higher mortality due to stomach cancer than women. In New York State, stomach cancer occurs more frequently and has a higher mortality among individuals who are Asian or Pacific Islanders or who are Black, than White individuals.

What factors increase risk for developing stomach cancer?

At this time, the causes of stomach cancer are not well understood. However, scientists agree that certain factors increase a person's risk of developing this disease. These risk factors include:

  • H. pylori (Helicobacter pylori). Individuals who are infected with the bacterium H. pylori are at higher risk for stomach cancer than people who are not infected. However, most people with H. pylori do not develop stomach cancer.
  • Family history. People with close relatives (parents, brothers/sisters, children) who have had stomach cancer are at greater risk for the disease. Current research indicates that about 30% of stomach cancers may be inherited.
  • Smoking. Smoking increases the risk for getting stomach cancer. A current smoker's risk for stomach cancer may be about double that of a non-smoker.
  • Alcohol. Heavy drinking increases the risk of stomach cancer.
  • Ionizing radiation. Individuals exposed to high levels of ionizing radiation, such as radiation treatment for other diseases, are at higher risk for developing stomach cancer.
  • Workplace exposures. Individuals who work in industries that are dusty, such as foundries, steel-making and mining, are at increased risk of developing stomach cancer. Workers in the rubber industry, oil refineries, and workers exposed to diesel exhaust are also at increased risk for the disease.
  • Diet. Diets low in vegetables, fruit and high fiber foods or high in salted, smoked or poorly preserved foods may increase risk for stomach cancer.

What other risk factors for stomach cancer are scientists studying?

Scientists are continuing to look at various foods and specific vitamins and nutrients to better understand how they affect the risk for developing stomach cancer. High salt intake appears to increase the risk for stomach cancer. In addition, studies suggest that eating smoked, pickled and salty preserved, or poorly preserved, foods increases the risk of getting stomach cancer. Drinking green tea appears to reduce the risk for stomach cancer.

Scientists also continue to focus on the specific ways that H. pylori affects the stomach and leads to stomach cancer in some people. H. pylori infection also increases a person's chances of getting ulcers, but having an ulcer does not necessarily lead to an increased risk for stomach cancer. Increased risk appears to depend on the type of ulcer and ulcer treatment.

What can I do to reduce my chances of getting stomach cancer?

To help reduce the risk of getting stomach cancer:

  • Be aware of your family history and discuss any concerns with your health care provider.
  • Do not smoke. If you currently smoke, quit. Avoid exposure to second hand smoke. For more information on quitting smoking, visit the NYS Smoker's Quitline at www.nysmokefree.com or call 1-866-NY-QUITS.
  • Discuss the risks and benefits of medical imaging, such as CT scans, with your health care provider to avoid unnecessary exposure to ionizing radiation. This is particularly important for children.
  • Be aware of workplace health and safety rules and follow them.
  • Choose a healthy diet to achieve and maintain a healthy weight. Eat more vegetables, fruits and whole grains and eat less red and processed (e.g., bacon, sausage, luncheon meat, hot dogs) meats. These actions may reduce the risk of developing many types of cancer as well as other diseases.
  • If you are concerned about frequent stomach symptoms, discuss your concerns with your health care provider.

How else can I reduce my risk for cancer?

The following may help reduce the risk of developing cancer:

  • Exercise regularly.
  • Talk with your health care provider about recommended cancer screenings.

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