Major lifestyle factors linked to stomach cancers for first time

21 April 2016

  • Drinking three alcoholic drinks or more per day increases the risk of stomach cancer
  • Eating processed meat increases the risk of stomach cancer
  • Being overweight or obese increases the risk of stomach cancer

For the first time, drinking alcohol, eating processed meat and being overweight have been linked to an increased risk of developing stomach cancers, research released today by World Cancer Research Fund has found[1].

The cancer prevention charity’s new evidence, from its Continuous Update Project, shows that drinking three or more alcoholic drinks (more than 45 grams of alcohol) per day increases the risk of stomach cancers. The risk is most apparent in men, as well as smokers and ex-smokers.

The report also found that for each 50 grams of processed meat eaten per day, the equivalent to about two rashers of bacon, the risk of non-cardia stomach cancer* increases by 18 per cent. This finding adds to the current evidence that eating processed meat increases the risk of bowel cancer.

Stomach cancer was also linked to being overweight or obese in the report, bringing the number of cancers linked to being overweight to eleven. The research showed a 23 per cent increased risk of cardia stomach cancer** per five Body Mass Index units.

Worldwide there are around one million new stomach cancer cases each year making it the fifth most common cancer and the third biggest cancer killer. In the UK about one in six stomach cancer cases could be prevented if people stopped drinking more than three alcoholic drinks a day, eating processed meat and were a healthy weight, that’s around 1,200 cancer cases a year.

Dr. Rachel Thompson, Head of Research Interpretation at World Cancer Research Fund, said:

“This new evidence gives us a clearer picture. We can now say, for the first time, that drinking alcohol, eating processed meat and being overweight or obese can all increase the risk of developing stomach cancers.

“These findings will hopefully help people better understand what increases their risk of cancer so that they can make informed decisions about their lifestyles choices”.

Prof. Michael Leitzmann, from the University of Regensburg in Germany and one of the report’s lead experts, said:

“The findings of this latest evidence report from World Cancer Research Fund are groundbreaking and show there is strong evidence linking the risk of developing stomach cancers to a number of different lifestyle factors, such as drinking alcohol and eating processed meat.

“The evidence from this current report will help the public and the health community better understand what can influence the risk of developing stomach cancers. It is an invaluable contribution to the growing evidence that exists on cancer prevention”.

The evidence linking added salt as a cause of stomach cancer has changed and is less strong. This is partly due to the difficulty in measuring salt consumption. Eating too much salt cannot be ruled out as a risk of stomach cancer and it is still a health concern. World Cancer Research Fund recommends consuming no more than six grams per day – the equivalent of one teaspoon.

Join World Cancer Research Fund on Twitter at 4pm BST on 21 April for Q&As on the new stomach cancer report. Follow @WCRFint using #StomachCancer to take part.  

ENDS

For more information please email pr@wcrf.org.

Notes to editors:

About World Cancer Research Fund

For the past 25 years, World Cancer Research Fund has been the UK’s leading charity dedicated to the prevention of cancer through diet, weight and physical activity. By funding and supporting research, developing policy recommendations and providing health information, we have ensured that people can make informed lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of developing a preventable cancer. As we look forward to our next 25 years, our scientific research ensures that we will continue to have the latest and most authoritative information at our fingertips, all underpinned by independent expert advice.

Our analysis of global research shows that a third of the most common cancers are preventable through a healthy diet, maintaining a healthy weight and regular physical activity. 

For more information visit  our website, follow us on Twitter, read our blog or visit our Facebook page. 

About the Continuous Update Project

The Continuous Update Project (CUP) monitors and analyses research on cancer prevention from around the world and draws conclusions on how lifestyle factors such as weight, diet and physical activity can reduce the risk of developing cancer. A panel of independent experts assesses if the scientific evidence has changed and if this impacts the World Cancer Research Fund’s 10 Cancer Prevention Recommendations. All previous reports can be found here.

About the Stomach Cancer Report

World Cancer Research Fund’s CUP has collated and reviewed the scientific research available globally on stomach cancer, diet, physical activity and weight in the first such review since 2007. Eighty-nine studies were looked at, covering 17.5 million adults of whom 77,000 were diagnosed with stomach cancers.

About stomach cancers

Stomach cancers are classified into two main types according to where in the stomach they arise. These types have some different risk factors and affect different populations.

*Non-cardia cancer

Non-cardia cancer involves all the stomach except for the top portion called the cardia. Non-cardia stomach cancer is common in Asia and associated with H.pylori infection.

**Cardia cancer

The cardia is located at the top of the stomach, where it meets the oesophagus. Cardia stomach cancer is more common in high-income countries where rates are increasing. This is in part due to the fact this form of cancer is related to being overweight and is associated with chronic gastro-oesophageal reflux. Being overweight puts pressure on the abdomen, which pressurises the sphincter at the top of the stomach and causes acid to escape.

[1] World Cancer Research Fund/ American Institute for Cancer Research. Continuous Update Project Report: Diet, Nutrition, Physical Activity and Stomach Cancer. 2016. Available at: www.wcrf.org/stomach-cancer-2016