Stomach Cancer

Causes & Risk Factors

The stomach cancer rate in the United States and the number of deaths from this disease have gone down dramatically over the past 60 years. Still, stomach cancer, also referred to as gastric cancer, is a serious disease, and scientists all over the world are trying to learn more about what causes this disease and how to prevent it. At this time, doctors cannot explain why one person gets stomach cancer and another does not. They do know, however, that stomach cancer is not contagious; no one can "catch" cancer from another person.

Stomach cancer researchers have learned that some people are more likely than others to develop this disease. Stomach cancer is found most often in people over age 55. It affects men twice as often as women, and is more common in black people than in white people. Also, stomach cancer is more common in some parts of the world -- such as Japan, Korea, parts of Eastern Europe, and Latin America -- than in the United States. People in these areas eat many foods that are preserved by drying, smoking, salting, or pickling. Scientists believe that eating foods preserved in these ways may be a risk factor for stomach cancer. On the other hand, fresh foods (especially fresh fruits and vegetables and properly frozen or refrigerated fresh foods) may protect against stomach cancer.

Stomach ulcers do not appear to increase a person's risk of developing stomach cancer. However, some studies suggest that a type of bacteria, Helicobacter pylori, which may cause stomach inflammation and ulcers, may be an important risk factor for this disease. Also, research shows that people who have had stomach surgery or have pernicious anemia, achlorhydria, or gastric atrophy (which generally result in lower than normal amounts of digestive juices) have an increased risk of stomach cancer.

Exposure to certain dusts and fumes in the workplace has been linked to a higher than average risk of stomach cancer. Also, some scientists believe smoking may increase the risk of developing stomach cancer. People who think they might be at risk for stomach cancer should discuss this concern with their doctor. The doctor can suggest an appropriate schedule of checkups so that, if cancer appears, it can be detected as early as possible.

We care about your feedback. Let us know how we can improve your CancerCompass experience.