About 28,000 people in the U.S. will get stomach cancer this year. While it isn’t as common as it used to be, this type of cancer can be life-changing. Many times, having your stomach removed is the only cure. To stay healthy, it helps to know what puts you at risk.
Like all forms of the disease, stomach cancer is complex. It can be set into motion by many different things. You may be born with some traits that raise the odds that you’ll get it. Lifestyle choices you make or toxins you come into contact with can also raise your chances of getting sick.
Some of the most common things that make stomach cancer more likely include:
Age. If you’re over 50, you’re more likely to get stomach cancer. It most often affects people who are in their 60s, 70s, or 80s.
Ethnicity. Asians, Pacific Islanders, Hispanics, and African-Americans are all more likely to get this type of cancer than whites.
Geography. Where you live can play a role in whether or not you’ll get stomach cancer. For instance, in Japan, it’s the most common type of cancer that people get.
Infection. H. pylori is a type of bacteria that often infects your stomach. While many people never have symptoms, others get ulcers and a chronic inflammation called gastritis. If you’ve been infected with H. pylori, you’re more likely to get stomach cancer. Epstein-Barr virus, the germ that causes infectious mononucleosis (mono), may also be linked.
Surgery. Once you’ve had treatment for ulcers, your stomach doesn’t make as much acid. This sets the stage for more bacteria to grow there. Over many years, this could lead to cancer.
Stomach issues. If you have pernicious anemia, your stomach has trouble absorbing enough vitamin B12 for you to stay healthy. If your stomach can’t make enough acid to digest your food, you have a condition called achlorhydria. People with either of these health conditions have a higher chance of getting stomach cancer.
Diet. Eat a lot of smoked, salty, and pickled foods or processed meats, and you’ll raise your odds of stomach cancer. On the other hand, a diet that’s rich in fruits and vegetables may help protect you.
Alcohol. While it’s unclear if drinking booze leads to stomach cancer, it may cause your disease to progress faster once you have it.
Stomach polyps. These growths on your stomach lining are often harmless, but a certain type of polyp known as adenomas can to turn into cancer.
Your workplace. Working around coal, rubber, or metal raises your odds of getting this type of cancer.
Genetics. You’re born with as many as 30,000 genes. Each of these little bundles of DNA tells your cells how to behave. Errors on some genes, such as one called CDH1, have been linked to stomach cancer. A mistake on another gene known as APC makes it more likely that you’ll get both colorectal and stomach cancers. Other health problems that run in families, like hereditary breast and ovarian cancers, also raise your odds.
Family history. If you have a parent, sibling, or child with stomach cancer, your chances of having it go up as well.
Just because you have some of these risk factors doesn’t mean you’ll get stomach cancer. Lifestyle changes like eating more healthy foods and quitting smoking can help protect you. So can being aware of your family history and seeing your doctor for regular checkups.
Spotting stomach cancer early is key to treatment, so make sure you also know the early signs. These include heartburn, trouble swallowing, belly pain that’s often above your belly button, and feeling sick or bloated after you eat. If you notice these symptoms, speak to your doctor right away.