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Report Links Alcohol, Processed Meats, and Excess Weight to Stomach Cancer

By Stacy Simon

A report from the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund links an increased risk for stomach cancer with drinking alcohol, eating processed meats (including ham, bacon, pastrami, salami, bologna, hot dogs, and some sausages), and being overweight. Stomach cancer is a leading cause of cancer deaths worldwide.

Key findings

The report reviewed evidence from 89 studies from around the world. The studies examined about 17.5 million adults and almost 77,000 cases of stomach cancer. The report found:

  • Drinking 3 or more alcoholic drinks a day increases the risk of cancer in the lower stomach.
  • Eating processed meat increases the risk of cancer in the lower stomach. For every 50 grams of processed meat eaten every day, the risk of cancer in the lower stomach increases by 18%. That’s the equivalent of about 4 strips of bacon or 1 hot dog.
  • Being overweight or obese increases the risk of cancer in the upper stomach.
  • Eating food preserved by salting increases the risk of stomach cancer. This includes pickled vegetables and salted and dried fish, as traditionally prepared in East Asia.

Other risk factors

In addition to the report’s findings, other risk factors for stomach cancer include:

  • Smoking
  • Infection with Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) bacteria
  • Chemicals in the workplace: Workers in the coal, metal, rubber, and some other industries seem to have a higher risk of getting stomach cancer.

American Cancer Society recommendations

According to Marji McCullough, SCD, RD, American Cancer Society strategic director of nutritional epidemiology, following the American Cancer Society Guidelines on Nutrition and Physical Activity for Cancer Prevention will cover everything found in the report. The guideline recommends limiting alcohol to no more than 1 drink per day for women and 2 for men. The guideline also recommends a diet that limits processed and red meats, and that is high in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. This type of diet, along with regular physical activity, can also help you get to and stay at a healthy weight.

McCullough says it’s best to limit processed meats to special occasions only, if you eat them at all. “If you eat processed meats regularly, start by cutting the amount you eat in half,” she says.

Processed meat has also been linked to other cancer types, including colorectal cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer, the cancer agency of the World Health Organization, recently classified processed meat as a carcinogen, something that causes cancer.

Avoiding tobacco, getting to and staying at a healthy weight, getting regular physical activity, and limiting alcohol can also help people lower their risk of getting many types of cancer.