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Questions About Stomach Cancer

Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, attacks the tissues of the stomach — a sac-like organ involved in digestion and located in the upper abdomen, between the esophagus and the intestines.

How common is stomach cancer? In which countries is it common?

Stomach cancer (or gastric cancer) is the fourth most common cancer in the world, with approximately 800,000 people diagnosed with the disease worldwide each year. The incidence of stomach cancer is particularly high in Japan, South America, Eastern Europe, and parts of the Middle East.

How does stomach cancer develop?

Under normal conditions, cells lining the inside of the stomach grow, divide, and die in a controlled manner. Stomach cancer develops when the cells lining the inside of the stomach begin to grow in an uncontrolled manner. Instead of dying, these abnormal cells outlive normal cells, invade adjacent tissues, and sometimes spread to other parts of the body (a process called metastasis). The cancerous cells eventually form a tumor.

What are the predisposing risk factors for stomach cancer?

Although anyone can develop stomach cancer, men and people over 55 years of age are at a higher risk of getting stomach cancer. Also helicobacter pylori infection, smoking, previous stomach surgery, pernicious anemia, type A blood, Menetrier disease (hypertrophic gastropathy), a presence of adenomatous stomach polyps (adenomas), and certain occupations (e.g. workers in the coal, metal, and rubber industries) have been associated with a higher risk of stomach cancer. Furthermore, a family history of stomach cancer and certain genetic conditions, such as hereditary diffuse gastric cancer, hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (HNPCC), and BRCA1/BRCA2 gene mutation, may also increase the risk.

Furthermore, certain dietary habits may predispose a person to stomach cancer (which may contribute to the higher incidence of stomach cancer in some countries, such as Japan). On the other hand, other dietary factors may play a key role in the prevention of stomach cancer. The dietary factors that may have an impact on a person's risk of developing stomach cancer are discussed in the Stomach Cancer & Diet section of's Guide to Stomach Cancer & Nutrition.