Knowing the risk factors for stomach cancer may prompt you to make healthy dietary choices that can lower your risk for the disease, or help you determine when to be screened.
Dietary choices can affect your risk for developing stomach cancer. The risk is higher, for example, if you eat a lot of red meat or smoked, salted, or pickled foods. Tobacco and alcohol use are also risk factors for stomach cancer, and some studies indicate the risk for cancerous changes in the stomach increases when the diet is low in selenium — a mineral found in some nuts, fish, and meats.
Certain medical conditions are also associated with an increased risk for developing stomach cancer:
- Infection with the bacterium Helicobacter pylori, which can lead to chronic inflammation of the inner layer of the stomach, the development of precancers, or a type of stomach cancer known as gastric lymphoma.
- Medical conditions that lower levels of stomach acid such as the autoimmune disorder pernicious anemia and a rare illness called Ménétrier disease that causes the growth of large folds in the stomach. Occasionally, surgery to treat ulcers and other noncancerous conditions reduces stomach acid levels to the point at which harmful bacteria can flourish.
- Inherited cancer syndromes or conditions such as the following are believed to be responsible for one to three percent of stomach cancers in the United States:
- Type A blood
- Mutation in the CDH1 gene; this is associated with an 80 percent lifetime risk of developing stomach cancer
- A family history of stomach cancer or close relatives with mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes
- Familial cancer syndromes associated with an increased risk for gastric cancer:
- Familial Adenomatous Polyposis, a syndrome that causes the growth of polyps throughout the digestive system
- Hereditary Diffuse Gastric Cancer
- Hereditary Nonpolyopsis Colorectal Cancer (Lynch syndrome)
- Peutz-Jeghers Syndrome
A diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables and low in salted, smoked, or pickled foods is helpful for preventing unwanted changes in the stomach lining. Avoiding tobacco use and excessive alcohol intake is also important.
Speak with your doctor if you have a family history of inherited syndromes or conditions that may predispose you to stomach cancer, and be sure to contact your doctor if you experience symptoms associated with the illness.
There are no widely accepted screening guidelines for stomach cancer in the United States. However, people with close relatives who have had the disease should be aware that they may be at a higher risk for it. According to the US Centers for Disease Control, people of Asian, Eastern European, or South American heritage may also have a higher risk.
Gastric Cancer Registry
Memorial Sloan Kettering is a leader in research seeking to identify the genetic and environmental causes of stomach cancer. Our Early Onset and Familial Gastric Cancer Registry aims to characterize factors that raise the risk for this cancer — especially the inherited or acquired genetic alterations that cause gastric cancer in young people. Better understanding of the risk factors for stomach cancer may lead to improvements in the way doctors prevent, diagnose, and treat this disease.
Using information from this registry, we already have identified three different subtypes of stomach cancer. Learn more about the Early Onset and Familial Gastric Cancer Registry and see if you are eligible to join by contacting the registry team at GastricCancerRegistry@mskcc.org.