The exact reason for why one person develops stomach cancer and another does not remains unclear. However, studies show that the following factors may increase your risk for developing stomach cancer:
- Helicobacter pylori infection: This bacterium commonly infects the inner lining (the mucosa) of the stomach. Not everyone with H. pylori infection develops stomach cancer. Two-thirds of the world’s population is estimated to harbor H. pylori in their stomachs with infection rates higher in developing countries than developed nations. The bacterium is believed to spread through contaminated water and food, or direct mouth-to-mouth contact. Although most people don’t become ill from the infection, the bacterium is responsible for most peptic ulcers and other stomach and upper small intestine ulcers.
- Long-term stomach inflammation: Inflammation that occurs with conditions like pernicious anemia or as an autoimmune condition called atrophic gastritis, increases stomach cancer risk.
- Prior gastric surgery: People who have had stomach operations in the past are also at increased risk. These operations include surgeries done for peptic ulcer disease called Billroth I and II and procedures that remove part of the stomach. The risk has been observed to increase many years after the surgery.
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- Family history: Close relatives (parents, siblings, or children) of a person with a history of stomach cancer are somewhat more likely to develop the disease themselves. If many close relatives have a history of stomach cancer, the risk is even greater.
- Poor diet, lack of exercise, or obesity: Eating a diet high in foods that are smoked, salted or pickled increases stomach cancer risk as does low levels of physical activity and being overweight.
- Smoking: Smokers are more likely than nonsmokers to develop stomach cancer. Heavy smokers face the greatest risk.
Prevention: take charge of your life
Adopting a healthy lifestyle is one of the best ways to reduce your risk factors for stomach and other cancers:
- Avoid all tobacco products. If you smoke, quit now. Smoking has been linked to as many as one in five cases of colorectal cancer. Find the support and guidance you need by calling the New York State Smokers’ Quitline at Roswell Park, at 1-866-NY-QUITS (1-866-697-8487), or visit www.nysmokefree.com for more information.
- Eat a healthy diet. Reduce or avoid consumption of smoked, salted and pickled foods.
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Exercise regularly
Stomach cancer genetics
Some gene mutations that may predispose a person to stomach cancer can be inherited. Stomach cancer may be inherited. Although rare, learning whether or not your stomach cancer is linked with a genetic syndrome is an important part of your treatment planning. While it won’t change the actual treatment, it may alter the type or surgery that’s best for you or amend your follow-up and surveillance recommendations. The stomach cancer team may recommend that you meet with a genetic counselor if you have:
- Lynch syndrome
- Hereditary diffuse gastric cancer gene CDH1
- Been diagnosed with stomach cancer younger than age 35
- A personal or family history of lobular breast cancer
- A personal or family history of diffuse gastric cancer
- Signet ring cell gastric cancer
Clinical Genetics Service
Our Clinical Genetics Service team can provide appropriate cancer and genetic risk assessment, testing, and a comprehensive genetic consultation to help you understand what this information means for your personal health. Roswell Park’s clinical genetics services include:
- Genetic counseling to educate about the biology and genetics of cancer
- Constructing a genetic pedigree (family tree)
- Evaluating cancer risk
- Options for prevention, surveillance and screening
- Genetic testing
- Interpreting genetic testing and what it means for you and your family