Stomach cancer is a leading cause of cancer-related deaths worldwide and according to the American Cancer Society, in the United States about 28,000 cases will be diagnosed this year,
Also called gastric cancer, stomach cancer usually develops slowly over many years. In its precancerous form it rarely causes any symptoms, so it goes undetected.
The good news is that you can help stave off stomach cancer simply by eating the right foods. Here are foods that increase your risk of stomach cancer and foods that lower it.
Research has shown, in areas where people eat a lot of smoked foods, the number of stomach cancer cases is twice as high as in other areas. The problem happens when foods are cooked at high temperatures or over open flames, creating chemicals called heterocyclic amines and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. These HCAs and PAHs cause changes in DNA that can increase cancer risk, according to the National Cancer Institute.
“HCAs are not found in significant amounts in foods other than meat cooked at high temperatures,” NCI says. “PAHs can be found in other charred foods, as well as in cigarette smoke and car exhaust fumes.”
As with smoked foods, in areas where salt-preserved foods are dietary staples, there is a greater chance of developing stomach cancer, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International.
“Scientists believe the increased stomach cancer risk from salt-preserved foods is because they contain a large amount of salt, which infuses the foods during the preservation process,” WCRFI science program manager Stephanie Fay writes. “Experimental research has shown that salt damages the stomach lining and causes lesions, which, if left to develop, can become stomach cancer.”
The same evidence has not been found for high-salt diets. Current scientific knowledge shows salt-preserved foods are different from salty foods, Fay says, but more research is needed.
Pickled food has long been around, although some have noted an uptick in popularity. While pickled veggies have their advantages — for example, they make vegetables more appealing for some — they have also been associated with a 50 percent higher risk of stomach cancer, according to a research analysis.
The researchers suggest the increased risk could come from several sources in pickled foods:
- Nitrates and nitrites, chemical compounds used to preserve foods
- The extra salt that comes with pickled foods
- Reduced consumption of fresh veggies in favor of pickled veggies
Speaking of fresh vegetables, when it comes to preventing stomach cancer they play a big part.
One study found an inverse effect between certain types of vegetables and stomach cancer, meaning “higher consumption of raw vegetables such as cabbage, carrots, garlic as well as broccoli may decrease a risk of stomach cancer,” researchers write.
People in developed countries, such as the United States, can eat more fresh vegetables compared to pickled vegetables because they have the ability to preserve them with refrigeration. That is one of the reasons the global rate of stomach cancer, although still a concern, has dropped from where it used to be, according to a worldwide report.
“The American Cancer Society recommends that people eat a healthy diet, with an emphasis on plant foods,” according to the organization’s website. “This includes eating at least 2½ cups of vegetables and fruits every day.”
Fresh fruits: In case you’re someone who has a hard time eating fresh, healthy food, consider expanding your horizons. For example, fruitsinfo.com estimates there are around 2,000 types of fruit around the world, and the western world eats only 10 percent of them.
Be adventurous in what you try, checking out local farmers markets for produce that tickles your fancy and doing online searches for unusual fruits and how to eat them. Keep an eye out for citrus fruit, as research shows it offers particular protection against stomach cancer.
“If we all ate meals featuring more plant foods (especially fruits and non-starchy vegetables) roughly 4,000 cases [of stomach cancer] every year would never have to happen,” the American Institute for Cancer Research says.
In addition to eating healthy, pay attention to your body. The earlier you catch signs of cancer and see a doctor, the easier it is to fight it. If you’re concerned, consider visiting specialists like those at the Endoscopy Center who are familiar with the warning signs of stomach cancer and can conduct the tests you need to stay on top of your health.
A gastroenterologist can perform tests to diagnose stomach cancer and can also prescribe treatment. If you’re interested in getting tested or learning more, visit endo-world.com. Gastroenterology Associates of Pensacola has experts who can help.