What Causes Stomach Cancer? Understanding The Risk Factors
Having one or more risk factors may increase the chances of having gastric cancer. However, the absence of risk factors does not reduce the risk to zero.
There are many risk factors for stomach cancer, which include both modifiable and non-modifiable factors
Stomach cancer, or gastric cancer, is the fifth-most common cancer worldwide and is on the rise in Asian countries, including India. There are many risk factors for stomach cancer, which include both modifiable and non-modifiable factors. There is a complex interplay between genes and the environment that causes DNA damage and mutations leading to cancer.
It is important to understand the risk factors related to stomach cancer. Here's a list of these.
1. Impact of gender and age
Stomach cancer is twice as common in males as compared to females. It is more common in older individuals, more than 50 - 60 years of age. However, there has been an increase in incidence among young individuals, less than 40 years old, in Asian countries like India, Japan, South Korea, and China.
2. Infection can trigger stomach cancer.
There is also an infectious basis for the development of stomach cancer. Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) infection and chronic atrophic gastritis cause adenocarcinoma, a type of cancer. Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) is associated with gastric lymphoma. Pernicious anaemia, an autoimmune immune disease leading to vitamin B12 malabsorption, is a known risk factor.
3. Obesity and sedentary lifestyle
Being overweight and having a bad lifestyle have a strong association with stomach cancer. These factors are one of the major risk factors contributing to the global surge in stomach cancer cases. Keeping a healthy weight and an active lifestyle are necessary to reduce the incidence of this prevalent and potentially life-threatening condition.
4. Genetic factor
Around 10 percent of gastric cancers are genetic and have a strong familial predisposition, especially in those who have one or more first- or second-degree affected relatives. Certain familial cancer syndromes, like hereditary diffuse gastric cancer, Li-Fraumeni syndrome, and certain polyposis syndromes (like FAP, HNPCC, PJS, and JPS), increase the risk many fold. Even Type A blood group individuals are more prone to gastric cancer as compared to others.
5. Bad dietary habits
The diet also plays an important role. Consumption of salted, smoked, spicy and preserved foods leads to the development of gastric cancer. These contain nitrosamines, known carcinogens. This dietary habit is the cause of the increase in incidence in Japan.
6. Smoking and air pollution
Tobacco, the number one killer, is also a risk factor. Smokers have a higher incidence of stomach cancer than non-smokers. Exposure to radiation and polluted air puts people who work in the rubber and coal industries at an increased risk.
Having one or more risk factors may increase the chances of having gastric cancer. However, the absence of risk factors does not reduce the risk to zero. The majority of cases do not have visible symptoms, or the symptoms are vague and subtle. Please do not ignore your symptoms and consult your doctor when needed.
(Dr. Sanjeev Kumar, Senior Oncologist and Robotic Cancer Surgeon, Manipal Hospital, New Delhi)
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