Alcohol, processed meats like hot dogs and excess weight linked to increased risk of stomach cancer.
When it comes to stomach cancer apparently, you are what you eat.
An updated review from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund found that people who ate processed meat, drank alcohol or weighed more than they should had an increased risk of stomach cancer.
Researchers noted that there is no specific proof that these factors cause stomach cancer, only that there is an association. In October of 2015, the World Health Organization reported processed meats can cause cancer.
The new report notes that people who develop stomach cancer have a low survival rate because the symptoms don’t usually appear until the disease is advanced. Stomach cancer is more likely in older adults, with an average age at diagnosis of 72. It is also more common in men than women.
“You usually can’t take the result of a single study as proof. You like to see patterns,” study co-author Anne McTiernan, M.D., Ph.D., said in a press release. “By combining all this evidence you’re able to really see what these associations look like.”
Dr. McTiernan is an epidemiologist with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle.
Dr. McTiernan and colleagues studied all the scientific data available on stomach cancer, diet, physical activity and weight. Altogether, the review included 89 studies and data on 17.5 million adults, of whom 77,000 had stomach cancer.
The researchers found that obesity increased the risk of cancer of the upper stomach. They theorized that excess weight increases acid reflux, which causes chronic irritation of the upper stomach and esophagus. However, excess weight also disrupts hormonal function, which causes the release of inflammatory chemical into the bloodstream.
Alcohol and processed meats are more likely to increase the risk of cancer in the lower stomach. Processed meats contain nitrates, salt and smoking byproducts like polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), all of which have previously been linked to increased cancer risk.
Alcohol is also known to increase the risk of several types of cancer. Dr. McTiernan and the research team noted that three or more drinks of alcohol per day increases the risk of stomach cancer.
Eating 1.8 ounces of processed meat each day–the equivalent of one hot dog–increased the risk of stomach cancer by 18 percent.
A five-unit increase in body mass index (BMI) increases the risk of upper stomach cancer by 23 percent. BMI is a ratio of height to weight. A normal BMI is 18.5 to 24.9 for most adults.
The researchers were unable to say whether a combination of risk factors could also increase a person’s chances of getting stomach cancer.
The review was released in April by the American Institute for Cancer Research.
Information on funding and conflict of interest was not available.