Reducing your risk of stomach cancer

Can stomach cancer be prevented?

Stomach cancer is not very common in the UK. In 2013, 7,055 cases of stomach cancer were diagnosed.

Scientists estimate that around 1 in 6 stomach cancer cases in the UK could be prevented by eating well and being a healthy weight.

What is stomach cancer?

The stomach is part of the digestive system between the food pipe (oesophagus) and the bowel that helps to mix up and break down food.

Most stomach cancers develop in the lining of the stomach. There are two types of stomach cancer – cardia (at the top of the stomach where it meets the oesophagus) and non-cardia (the rest of the stomach).

Who is most at risk of stomach cancer?

As with all cancers, the risk of developing stomach cancer depends on a number of factors and varies from person to person.

Lifestyle risk factors

  • Drinking more than three alcoholic drinks a day
  • Eating processed meat
  • Being overweight or obese
  • Eating a diet that contains a lot of salt–preserved foods
  • Smoking or using tobacco

Other risk factors

  • Age – people aged 55 and over have a higher risk
  • Gender – stomach cancer affects twice as many men as women
  • Having a stomach infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori

How can you reduce your risk of stomach cancer?

The good news is that there are steps you can take to reduce your risk. These are based on research from our Continuous Update Project.

  • Cut down on alcohol

There’s strong evidence that drinking about three or more alcoholic drinks per day increases stomach cancer risk. To reduce cancer risk, we recommend not drinking alcohol at all. If you do drink, limit alcoholic drinks to no more than seven drinks a week, spread over at least three days. Find out more about the link between alcohol and cancer or find out how many calories are in alcoholic drinks by using our alcohol calorie calculator.

  • Avoid processed meat

Eating processed meat is strongly linked to an increased risk of non-cardia stomach cancer. Processed meat includes ham, bacon, salami, hot dogs and some sausages. Try to avoid processed meat wherever possible.

  • Be a healthy weight

Strong evidence shows that being overweight or obese increases your risk of cardia stomach cancer. Use our Body Mass Index calculator to find out if you are a healthy weight for your height and visit our weight and cancer prevention page for tips to keep your weight healthy.

  • Eat less salt-preserved foods

There is strong evidence that eating foods preserved by salting increases the risk of stomach cancer. This mainly relates to salted or dried fish and pickled vegetables eaten in East Asia, rather than foods commonly found in the UK.

The evidence linking added salt as a cause of stomach cancer has become less strong, although we cannot rule out this link. This is partly because it is so difficult to measure how much salt we eat. However, eating too much salt is still a health concern, so we recommend limiting the amount of salt in your diet to less than 6g per day – about one teaspoon. Try our healthy recipes, which are all low in salt.

  • Don’t smoke

If you do smoke, stopping smoking will reduce your risk. The NHS stop smoking service can help you quit.

Visit NHS Choices to find out about stomach cancer symptoms and treatment.