Stomach Cancer: Are You at Risk?

By Robynne K. Chutkan, MD, FASGE Assistant Professor of Medicine, Georgetown University Hospital Founder and Medical Director, Digestive Center for Women

Posted on | By Dr. Robynne Chutkan

In order to find a cure for cancer, we need to find out what causes it. It would be nice if that cause were something simple, like a chemical in the environment we're inadvertently exposed to, a vitamin deficiency, a bacterial infection, a lifestyle factor like smoking, or a gene we inherit from our parents. The reality is most cancers are probably caused by a combination of all of the above: genetic predisposition, toxic exposure, suboptimal nutrition, and infectious agents. And that's just the stuff we know about.

Identifying the Causes

Stomach cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide and a prime example of a cancer with many causes. Infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) is the main risk factor for developing stomach cancer. The interesting thing about H pylori is that although more than half the world's population is infected with it, only a small percentage will develop symptoms, which include stomach ulcers, abdominal pain and stomach cancer.

Nitrates and nitrites in smoked and preserved meats can form compounds called nitrosamines. Animal studies show that consuming large amounts of these substances over time can lead to cancer. In addition to avoiding large amounts of processed meats, maximizing your intake of fruits and vegetables that contain cancer-preventing phytonutrients is also a critical part of decreasing your risk for stomach cancer. Lifestyle factors such as smoking and heavy alcohol consumption are risk factors for most forms of cancer and stomach cancer is no exception.

Article written by Dr. Robynne Chutkan