Stomach cancer is considered one of the most prevalent cancers in the world. According to research conducted by the National Cancer Institute¹, an estimated 26,560 Americans will be newly diagnosed with stomach cancer by the end of 2021.
Fortunately, you can take many preventative measures to improve your overall health even if you are considered high risk of developing stomach cancer.
This article will provide a breakdown of several stomach cancer risk factors and how certain genetic traits and everyday lifestyle choices can affect your chances of being diagnosed with stomach cancer in the future.
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Stomach cancer² occurs when stomach cells grow and mutate at an abnormal rate. The health outcomes and physical symptoms a person may experience will vary depending on the specific type of stomach cancer. The recommended treatment option will also depend on where cancer originally developed and if it spreads to other parts of your body.
Newly diagnosed patients with stomach cancer usually have cancerous cells inside their stomach's innermost lining or mucosa. This type of stomach cancer is called Adenocarcinoma, which is the most common type of stomach cancer and accounts for almost 90% to 95% of all stomach cancer cases.
A risk factor is anything that may increase your chances of getting a disease. Below is a list of several risk factors out of your control - such as your gender or family medical history. It's important to note that just because you may have a greater risk of developing stomach cancer due to your age or genetic makeup, it doesn't necessarily mean that you will develop the disease in the future.
1. Family medical history
Your risk of developing stomach cancer increases if your immediate family members such as your parents, siblings, or child, are diagnosed with the disease. The following medical conditions caused by genetic mutations can also significantly increase the risk:
Hereditary diffuse gastric cancer
Gastric adenoma and proximal polyposis of the stomach
Familial adenomatous polyposis
However, some people are still diagnosed with stomach cancer despite not having cancer linked to their family's medical history.
Although younger people may develop stomach cancer, the risk sharply increases as they get older and approach their 60s and 70s. The average age of a newly diagnosed stomach cancer patient is currently 68 years old.
Scientific research³ shows that men are more likely than women to develop stomach cancer during their lifetime. The evidence suggests this may be due to biological differences between the two genders. Estrogen, a hormone responsible for developing and regulating the female reproductive system, helps protect women from gastric inflammation that may eventually lead to stomach cancer.
Stomach cancer is more common among certain ethnic groups. For example, Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian Americans are more likely to get stomach cancer than non-Hispanic white Americans.
5. Previous stomach surgery
People who have had previous surgical procedures on their stomach due to ulcers or similar illnesses are also at greater risk of developing stomach cancer in the future.
Here are some of the most common behaviors that may put you at greater risk of getting stomach cancer later on in life.
1. Being overweight or obese
Obesity is a condition where a person has an unhealthy amount of body fat. It's measured using the body mass index (or BMI), calculated by dividing a person's weight by height.
Being overweight or obese makes you nearly twice as likely as an average-weight person to develop cancer in the upper part of the stomach near the esophagus region. This is because overweight people⁴ typically have chronic inflammation, increased insulin levels, and an abundance of fat tissue. They also produce a lot of hormones that can manipulate cell growth. All of these factors are associated with increased risks of serious health conditions or disorders.
Another lifestyle risk factor is not incorporating enough fruits and vegetables into your diet. Charcoaled meats and foods that are heavily processed and salted like lunch meat or bacon may also increase a person’s chances of getting stomach cancer.
3. Consuming excessive amounts of alcohol
Excessive alcohol use may increase your risk of stomach cancer because it lowers testosterone and increases estrogen levels. An excessive amount of alcohol is defined as having more than three drinks per day.
4. Consuming tobacco products
Smoking is known to double your chances of a stomach cancer diagnosis in the upper part of the organ near the esophagus. Tobacco use may increase the risk for other types of cancers as well.
Where you live can also have an impact on whether you get stomach cancer. For example, the disease is less common in Africa and North America. People who reside in East Asia, Eastern Europe, and South and Central America are statistically more likely to be diagnosed with stomach cancer.
Although there is no guarantee that you can entirely prevent stomach cancer, there are several changes you can make to your lifestyle that may reduce your risk of developing the disease.
1. Maintain a healthy weight
Maintaining a healthy body weight for your gender and height can help lower your risk. Regular physical activity and a diet that promotes your overall wellbeing may also improve your mental and emotional health.
2. Eat more fruits and vegetables
The type of food you eat can have lasting health implications. Try to incorporate more fresh citrus fruits and raw vegetables into your diet. Also, try to avoid consuming excessive amounts of fish, meat, and pickled vegetables that are preserved with salt.
3. Avoid or limit alcohol and tobacco use
Consuming less alcohol and tobacco products can also lower your risk. If possible, avoid these altogether.
4. Take aspirin
Research⁵ shows that aspirin or ibuprofen may decrease the chances of developing stomach cancer and other diseases.
If you are considered high-risk due to factors that can't be altered - like your age or genetic makeup, you should immediately consult your doctor and ask for a screening. A health professional can also conduct tests to see if you have any genetic mutations associated with stomach cancer and discuss different prevention treatments.
Since stomach cancer can take years to develop and may not cause physical symptoms, many people don't realize they have it until cancer has spread to other parts of their bodies. Stomach cancer screenings⁶ are important because they can help catch the disease in its early stages.
Consult your doctor immediately if you believe you may be at risk of developing stomach cancer. They can advise you on which medical preventative measures are appropriate based on your specific situation. There are currently no standard or routine screening tests for stomach cancer.
Several genetic and lifestyle risk factors may increase your chances of getting stomach cancer. Fortunately, there are ways you can take charge of your health. A well-balanced diet, physical exercise, avoiding alcohol and tobacco products, and getting regular cancer screenings can help prevent the disease from forming, even if you are considered high-risk.
If you are at risk of developing stomach cancer, you should consult your doctor as soon as possible. They may recommend that you undergo a formal screening for the disease if you are considered high-risk for prevention purposes and to detect early signs of stomach cancer.
Cancer Stat Facts: Stomach Cancer | NIH: National Cancer Institute
What Is Stomach Cancer? | American Cancer Institute
Obesity and Cancer | | NIH: National Cancer Institute