Understanding Risk Factors for Stomach Cancer

Sunday, November 25, 2012 - 9:17am
Vice Chair and Chief of Gastrointestinal Surgery

One of the world’s deadliest cancers is also one of the rarest in the United States. About 25,000 Americans are diagnosed with stomach cancer each year, however many more are afflicted worldwide. In developing countries, particularly in Central and South America, diets rich in preservatives and salt content are the norm. In Asian countries, such as Japan and Korea, the heavy consumption of pickled vegetables and smoked meats are believed to contribute to high rates of stomach cancer.

As stomach cancer rates drop in the U.S., so too does the need for mass screening, sometimes making detection problematic. Adding to the difficulty of diagnosing this disease are the relatively common symptoms – indigestion, bloating, and overall stomach discomfort. If these symptoms persist, please bring them to the attention of your physician.

To ward off stomach cancer risk factors, stick to a diet high in fresh fruit and vegetables and attempt regular exercise. Do not smoke, and if you do, quit. Inhaling tobacco is a definite risk for stomach cancer.

A small component of stomach cancer, known as diffuse stomach cancers, are believed to be potentially inheritable. If there is a known history of stomach cancer in your family, you should bring it to the attention of a doctor or contact Clinical Genetic Services at RPCI to set up an appointment with a genetic counselor.

Additionally, an infection from the Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) bacteria is a risk factor. If the infection develops for too long in the stomach, it may eventually lead to stomach cancer. Get yourself tested for H. pylori if you have any serious signs of indigestion or upper abdominal pain. The infection can often be eradicated by consuming antibiotics.

Although stomach cancer cases have gone down in recent years in the U.S., the incidence of tumors appearing in the junction between the esophagus and stomach has been on the rise in recent years. The rise of these tumors in this country is likely related to the rise of increased obesity, heartburn and reflux. At present time, screening programs for these types of tumors are also rare in the United States.