Alcohol, Processed Meats and Obesity Ups Stomach Cancer Risk

For the first time, a systematic review of the global research has found that drinking alcohol, eating processed meat and being overweight increase the risk of developing stomach cancers. The report was released today by AICR and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF).

The report Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Stomach Cancer, shows that drinking three or more alcoholic drinks (more than 1.5 ounces of pure alcohol) per day, every day, increases the risk of stomach cancers. The risk is most apparent in men, as well as in smokers and ex-smokers.

The report also found that for every 1.8 ounces (50 grams) of processed meat eaten per day, every day – the equivalent of one hot dog – the risk of cancers of the lower stomach (non-cardia)* increases by 18 percent. This finding adds to the current evidence on processed meat, which also increases the risk of colorectal cancer.

Eleven Types of Cancer Now Linked to Obesity

New evidence in the report links cancers of the upper stomach (cardia) to being overweight or obese, bringing the types of cancers now linked to carrying excess body fat to eleven. The report shows a 23 percent increased risk of cardia stomach cancer** per every five-unit-increase in Body Mass Index.

"This report is a real wake-up call," says Alice Bender, MS, RDN, Head of Nutrition Programs at AICR. “Obesity is now linked to eleven types of cancer and we want Americans to know there are steps everyone can take for cancer prevention and better health, like eating more vegetables, beans, fruits and other plant foods along with squeezing in a few more steps every day.”

The report collated and analyzed the scientific research available globally on stomach cancer, diet, physical activity and weight in the first such review since 2007. Eighty-nine studies were looked at, covering 17.5 million adults, of whom 77,000 were diagnosed with stomach cancers.

Worldwide there are approximately one million new stomach cancer cases each year, making it the fifth most common cancer and the third biggest cancer killer. In the US, about one in seven (15 percent) stomach cancer cases could be prevented if people did not drink more than three alcoholic drinks a day, did not eat processed meat and were a healthy weight. That’s approximately 4,000 stomach cancer cases every year.

Stomach cancers are classified into two main types according to where the cancers are in the stomach. These types have some distinct risk factors and affect different populations.

The top portion of the stomach, where it meets the esophagus, is called the cardia. Cardia stomach cancer is more common in high-income countries where rates are increasing. This is in part due to the fact that this form of cancer is related to being overweight and is associated with chronic gastro-esophageal reflux. Being overweight puts pressure on the abdomen, which pressurizes the sphincter at the top of the stomach and causes acid to escape.

Non-cardia cancer involves all the stomach except for the top portion called the cardia. Non-cardia stomach cancer is common in Asia and associated with H. pylori infection.

CUP Panel lead expert Prof. Michael Leitzmann of the University of Regensburg said: “The findings of this latest evidence report from AICR/WCRF are groundbreaking and show there is strong evidence linking the risk of developing stomach cancers to a number of different lifestyle factors, such as drinking alcohol and eating processed meat.

“The evidence from this current report will help the public and the health community better understand what can influence the risk of developing stomach cancers. It is an invaluable contribution to the growing evidence that exists on cancer prevention.”

The evidence linking added salt to stomach cancer has changed and is now less strong. However, eating too much salt cannot be ruled out as a risk for stomach cancer and it is still a health concern. AICR recommends consuming no more than six grams of salt per day – the equivalent of one teaspoon.

The National Cancer Institute lists other factors that may decrease the risk of stomach cancer, including:

  • Stopping smoking
  • Treating Helicobacter pylori infection

Join AICR on Twitter at 11am ET on April 21st for Q&As on the new stomach cancer report. Follow @aicrtweets using #StomachCancer to take part.


Sources: AICR/WCRF Continuous Update Project Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Stomach Cancer, April 2016; National Cancer Institute. Stomach Cancer Prevention.

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    Published on April 29, 2016

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