Stomach Cancer Overview

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Causes, Risk Factors, and Prevention TOPICS

Can stomach cancer be prevented?

There is no sure way to prevent stomach cancer, but there are things you can do that might lower your risk.

Diet, body weight, and exercise

Increased use of refrigeration for food storage (rather than using salting, pickling, and smoking) has helped lower the rate of stomach cancer. To help reduce your risk, avoid a diet that is high in smoked and pickled foods and salted meats and fish.

A diet high in fresh fruits and vegetables can lower stomach cancer risk. Citrus fruits (such as oranges, lemons, and grapefruits) may be extra helpful. Grapefruit and grapefruit juice can change the levels of certain drugs in your body, so you should talk to your doctor about this before adding grapefruit to your diet. The American Cancer Society recommends that people eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods. This includes eating at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits every day. Choosing whole-grain breads, pastas, and cereals instead of refined grains, and eating fish, poultry, or beans instead of processed meat and red meat may also help lower your risk of cancer.

Studies that have looked at using vitamins and minerals to lower stomach cancer risk have had mixed results so far. Combinations of some vitamins (A, C, and E and the mineral selenium) might reduce the risk of stomach cancer in people with poor diets to begin with. But most studies looking at people who eat healthy diets have not found any benefit. Further research in this area is needed.

Being overweight or obese may add to the risk of stomach cancer. On the other hand, being physically active may help lower your risk. The American Cancer Society recommends staying at a healthy weight all your life by eating right and getting enough exercise. Aside from possible effects on the risk of stomach cancer, losing weight may also have an impact on the risk of some other cancers and health problems.

You can find more information in the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention.

Stay away from tobacco

Tobacco use can increase the risk of stomach cancer, as well as other cancers. If you don’t use tobacco, please don’t start. If you already do and want help quitting, call your American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345.

H. pylori infection

It is not yet clear whether everyone with on-going (chronic) infection with H. pylori bacteria should be treated to prevent stomach cancer. Some studies have suggested that giving antibiotics to people with H. pylori infection might lower their rate of getting stomach cancer. But more research needs to be done.

If you or your doctor thinks you might have H. pylori infection, you can be tested for this. The simplest way is a blood test that looks for antibodies to H. pylori, but other tests are used as well.

Aspirin use

Using aspirin or other drugs like it may lower the risk of stomach cancer and colon cancer. But these drugs can also cause serious internal bleeding and other problems in some people. Most doctors think of the lower cancer risk as an added benefit for patients who take these drugs for other problems such as arthritis. But they do not recommend taking them just to reduce the risk of cancer.

For people at greatly increased risk

A small percentage of stomach cancers are caused by an inherited genetic condition called hereditary diffuse gastric cancer syndrome. Most people who have inherited the gene for this condition will get stomach cancer at some point in their lives. These cancers are usually not seen on tests like endoscopy, so people who have this gene often have surgery to remove the stomach before stomach cancer is found. If you have a strong family history of stomach cancer, discuss it with your doctor. If it looks like you might have this syndrome, you can get genetic counseling and testing to see if you have the gene that causes it. If you do, you may want to think about surgery.

Last Medical Review: 05/27/2014
Last Revised: 01/09/2015