Lifestyle, medication use, and more

People may be able to decrease their risk of stomach cancer by reaching or maintaining a moderate weight, avoiding smoking and drinking alcohol, and treating infections that may lead to stomach cancer.

Stomach cancer accounts for around 1.5% of new cancer diagnoses in the United States each year. The American Cancer Society (ACS) estimates that there will be around 26,890 new cases of stomach cancer in the United States in 2024 and 10,880 deaths from the disease.

According to the ACS, new cases of stomach cancer have been decreasing by about 1.5% every year for the last 10 years. This may be due to many preventive measures and improvements in food safety and healthcare.

This article looks at whether it is possible to prevent stomach cancer and what preventive steps a person can take. It also looks at understanding a family history of the disease.

There is no guaranteed way to prevent stomach cancer, but people can take steps to reduce some risk factors of the disease.

Certain risk factors for stomach cancer are modifiable, and a person can take action to improve them. Others are nonmodifiable, but monitoring these factors can help with early diagnosis and treatment, which could significantly improve outcomes.

Risk factors a person can modify include:

  • being overweight or having obesity
  • eating a diet high in processed, charcoaled, or grilled meats and low in fruits
  • regularly consuming alcohol
  • smoking tobacco
  • working in industries with metal, rubber, and coal
  • having an untreated Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection

Nonmodifiable risk factors include:

  • being age 60 years or above
  • having a certain racial or ethnic background, as African Americans, Native Americans, Hispanic Americans, Pacific Islanders, and Asian Americans are more likely to develop stomach cancer than non-Hispanic white people
  • having previous stomach surgery
  • having some types of stomach polyps
  • having Ménétrier disease or pernicious anemia
  • having an inherited cancer syndrome or a family history of stomach cancer
  • having type A blood

The following sections discuss ways to prevent stomach cancer.

Researchers have linked being overweight and having obesity with cancers that affect the upper area of the stomach. Reaching or maintaining a modest weight may help reduce the risk of stomach cancer.

Regular physical activity and eating a healthy, nutritious diet, such as the Mediterranean, MIND, or DASH diet, could help a person reach or maintain a moderate weight.

Although more research is necessary, research suggests that eating certain foods may contribute to the risk of stomach cancer, and eating others may reduce the risk.

Foods to avoid include:

  • high salt foods
  • smoked foods
  • poorly preserved foods
  • pickled foods
  • grilled, charcoaled, and processed meats

Eating more of the following may help reduce the risks of stomach cancer:

Smoking increases the risk of stomach cancer and other health conditions.

Researchers have found that people who smoke are more likely than nonsmokers to develop stomach cancer. Smoking can also decrease the effectiveness of the treatment for H. pylori infection, another risk factor for stomach cancer. Stopping smoking reduces the risk of stomach cancer over time.

Regular alcohol use may increase a person’s risk of stomach cancer.

According to the ACS, the evidence of this is strongest in people who have three or more alcoholic beverages per day. Cutting down on or avoiding alcohol may help reduce the risk of stomach cancer.

H. pylori bacterial infection is the most common cause of peptic ulcers. The bacteria cause the ulcers by breaking down the stomach’s protective lining, which can lead to inflammation. These changes in the stomach lining can cause the cells of the lining to become precancerous.

Chronic H. pylori infection could increase the risk of stomach cancer. Researchers have found that treating the infection with antibiotics may help prevent changes in the stomach lining, which could help reduce the risk of stomach cancer. However, more research is necessary to determine whether this is true.

Read more about stomach cancer and H. pylori infection.

According to the ACS, researchers have linked the use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and naproxen, with a lower risk of stomach cancer.

However, the ACS warns that NSAIDs can lead to health complications that may outweigh these potential benefits if people overuse them. These include life threatening internal bleeding, an increase in blood pressure, and kidney and liver damage.

Doctors do not recommend taking NSAIDs to prevent stomach cancer. A person should only take the medication as a doctor has instructed or according to the packaging information.

People with close family members, such as siblings or parents, who have experienced stomach cancer may be more likely to develop the disease. However, most people with the disease do not have a family history of stomach cancer.

A person may be at significantly increased risk of stomach cancer if they have family members with a rare genetic syndrome called hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC). An inherited change in the CDH1 gene is the most common cause of the syndrome.

Read more about family history of stomach cancer.

Below are answers to some frequently asked questions about stomach cancer.

What are the first warning signs of stomach cancer?

The signs and symptoms of stomach cancer can be difficult to notice, as they are common to several other conditions. They may include:

How do I check myself for stomach cancer?

A person cannot self-diagnose stomach cancer. The symptoms of stomach cancer typically mimic those of various other conditions, and medical tests are necessary for diagnosis.

A person should contact a doctor if they have:

  • a lump in their abdomen
  • difficulty swallowing
  • digestive symptoms that do not improve after 3 weeks of typical treatments
  • other symptoms of stomach cancer that worsen or do not improve after 3 weeks

A person cannot always prevent stomach cancer, but there are ways to help reduce the risks of some modifiable factors. These include maintaining a modest weight, avoiding tobacco, reducing or avoiding alcohol use, and receiving treatment for H. pylori infection if necessary.

Although NSAIDs are associated with a lower risk of stomach cancer, doctors do not recommend using them for this purpose due to the undesirable side effects of long-term use.

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