Report Links Alcohol, Processed Meats, and Excess Weight to Stomach Cancer

A report from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund links an increased risk for stomach cancer with drinking alcohol, eating processed meats, and being overweight. According to the report, thousands of stomach cancer cases could be prevented in the US if people maintained a healthy weight, limited alcohol, and avoided processed meats including ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, bologna, hot dogs, and some sausages.

Stomach cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide, but is less common in the United States, where the rates of new cases have been declining steadily since the early 20th century. Still, about 26,000 cases of stomach cancer are expected to be diagnosed in the US in 2016 and almost 11,000 people are expected to die from it.

Key findings

The report reviewed evidence from 89 studies from around the world. The studies examined about 17.5 million adults and almost 77,000 cases of stomach cancer. The report found:

  • Drinking 3 or more alcoholic drinks a day increases the risk of cancer in the lower stomach.
  • Eating processed meat increases the risk of cancer in the lower stomach. For every 50 grams of processed meat eaten every day, the risk of cancer in the lower stomach increases by 18%. That’s the equivalent of about 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog.
  • Being overweight or obese increases the risk of cancer in the upper stomach.
  • Eating food preserved by salting increases the risk of stomach cancer. This includes pickled vegetables and salted and dried fish, as traditionally prepared in East Asia.

Other risk factors

  • In addition to the report’s findings, other risk factors for stomach cancer include:
  • Smoking
  • Infection with Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) bacteria
  • Chemicals in the workplace: Workers in the coal, metal, rubber, and some other industries seem to have a higher risk of getting stomach cancer.

American Cancer Society recommendations

According to Marji McCullough, SCD, RD, American Cancer Society strategic director of nutritional epidemiology, following the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention will cover everything found in the report. The guidelines recommend limiting alcohol to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men. The guidelines also recommend a diet that limits processed and red meats, and that is high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. This type of diet, along with regular physical activity, can also help you get to and stay at a healthy weight.

McCullough says it’s best to limit processed meats to special occasions only, if you eat them at all. “If you eat processed meats regularly, start by cutting the amount you eat in half,” she says.

Processed meat has also been linked to other cancer types, including colorectal cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, recently classified processed meat as a carcinogen, something that causes cancer.

Avoiding tobacco, getting to and staying at a healthy weight, getting regular physical activity, and limiting alcohol can also help people lower their risk of getting many types of cancer. Call the American Cancer Society at 1-800-227-2345 for help in making healthy lifestyle changes.

The American Cancer Society medical and editorial content team

Our team is made up of doctors and oncology certified nurses with deep knowledge of cancer care as well as journalists, editors, and translators with extensive experience in medical writing.

Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Stomach Cancer. Published April 20, 2016 by World Cancer Research Fund International/American Institute for Cancer Research.

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