Dietary risk factors are most commonly linked to stomach cancer, but cases have decreased

Until the 1930s, stomach cancer was the leading cause of cancer death in the United States, but the number of cases has declined due to advancements in technology and prevention that focuses on dietary risk factors.

Scientists have found several risk factors that make a person more likely to get stomach cancer. Some of these can be controlled, but others cannot, according to the American Cancer Society.

A major cause of stomach cancer, also called gastric cancer, can be attributed to Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria. Long-term infection of the stomach with this germ may lead to inflammation (chronic atrophic gastritis) and pre-cancerous changes of the inner lining of the stomach.

Smoking, poor drinking water and lack of refrigeration can also increase stomach cancer risk. Before refrigeration was common, meats were often smoked, salted or cured, and many vegetables were pickled. Certain bacteria, such as H. pylori, can convert the nitrates and nitrites in cured meats into compounds that can lead to stomach cancer.

Improvements in food handling and storage, as well as the use of antibiotics, have reduced the prevalence of these risk factors.

Excessive alcohol consumption, however, can increase risk. A recent study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that men who consumed more than four alcoholic drinks per day were 65 percent more likely to develop stomach cancer than light drinkers. Stomach cancer is also more common in men than in women.

Most people are diagnosed with stomach cancer between their late 60s and 80s.

Some lifestyle choices that can decrease your risk of stomach cancer include:

  • Maintaining a diet that is low in smoked and pickled foods and salted meats and fish
  • Eating fruits (especially citrus) and vegetables as part of a balanced diet
  • Quiting smoking; not smoking
  • Maintaining a healthy weight
  • Talking to you doctor about the benefits of adding dietary or vitamin supplements to your diet
  • Keeping a family health history and communicating with your doctor, as some inherited conditions may raise a person's risk

For more information about gastric cancer risk and prevention, visit the American Cancer Society's website.

By Josh Kermisch, executive director of WVCI

Posted November 18, 2011


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