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Can Antibiotics Lower Stomach Cancer Rates?

People With H. pylori Infection Can Reduce Risk If Drugs Taken Early Enough
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Sanitation Key to Reducing Spread continued...

That is why H. pylori infection is disappearing in the U.S. population "at astronomical rates," she says. "The reason why this study was done in China was because H. pylori is not common in the U.S., but it is there." Conversely, stomach cancer is widespread in China, Japan, and Latin America, but not in America.

Besides healthier living conditions here, a diet high in antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables may also prevent H. pylori infection, says Parsonnet.Interestingly, although H. pylori can lead to peptic ulcers, she adds that Americans with a history of stomach ulcers seem to have lower rates of developing stomach cancer than do others.

She wasn't involved in Wong's study, but she did provide an accompanying editorial to it. Both are published in this week's issue of TheJournal of the American Medical Association.

"The take-home message of this study is that just treating H. pylori doesn't seem to be the answer for the general population," she tells WebMD. "But for some people, it can work -- and that's why it's complicated."

Wong says that while his "overall result is negative," he attributes this to his study not being long enough -- a fact Parsonnet notes in her editorial.

"With a longer follow-up, we should be able to demonstrate a more significant result," Wong tells WebMD. Still, his findings may suggest the benefit of early H. pylori detection and treatment -- especially for people with a family risk of stomach cancer or living in countries with high cancer rates. "Treatment may be too late if they already have developed precancerous lesions," he says.

Besides H. pylori infection, stomach cancer risk factors include a family history of the disease, smoking, a high-salt diet, and low produce intake.

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