Know your risks

Knowing what puts you at risk of getting cancer of the stomach or esophagus can help you take steps to prevent disease.

The cancer-causing chemicals in tobacco irritate the lining of the esophagus and stomach. Drinking too much alcohol damages the esophagus and stomach. That's why you should drink only in moderation and avoid smoking and smokeless tobacco.

Ulcers in the stomach and small intestine can lead to stomach cancer. Good hygiene habits, such as washing your hands before eating or after using the bathroom, can help you you avoid helicobacter pylori, the bacteria that causes most ulcers.

Chronic heartburn, also called gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), can lead to Barrett's esophagus and esophageal cancer. Heartburn happens when stomach acids and bile back up into the esophagus. Over time, the cells lining the esophagus change to prevent further damage. This new lining, called Barrett's esophagus, can become cancer.

A diet full of smoked, salted or pickled foods, may lead to stomach cancer. Unhealthy eating habits also can lead to obesity, a risk factor for esophageal cancer.

A balanced diet rich in vegetables and fruits can help you lose weight and lower cancer risks.

Compared to people of other races, stomach cancer is more common in Asians, Pacific Islanders, Hispanics and African Americans. Being African-American is linked to esophageal cancer. A family history of stomach cancer, colon cancer or polyps can increase your risks.
Stomach cancer often occurs in men older than 40. Esophageal cancer is common in men over 50.

Source: Virginia Piper Cancer Institute; National Cancer Institute; American Cancer Society
Reviewed By: Daniel Dunn, MD, medical director, Virginia Piper Cancer Institute Esophageal and Gastric Cancer Program
First Published: 10/29/2009
Last Reviewed: 10/29/2009

Programs to help you stop smoking

Smoking tobacco causes most cases of lung cancer. That is why we offer smoking cessation programs.