Although stress does not directly cause stomach cancer, chronic stress may increase cancer risk or make cancer spread faster.
Learn about risk factors for stomach cancer and how you can reduce your likelihood of developing the disease.
How does stress affect cancer risk?
Chronic stress can affect your risk of getting cancer and worsen your prognosis in the following ways:
- Increases inflammation in the body, which is linked to cancer
- Increases the risk of conditions such as obesity and acid reflux, which may increase the risk of stomach cancer
- Weakens the immune system, which can cause cancer to worsen or respond poorly to treatment
- Causes the release of certain hormones such as norepinephrine which can cause cancer cells to thrive
- May cause fatigue and lack of physical activity, which is a risk factor for cancer
- May lead to unhealthy habits such as alcohol and smoking, which are risk factors for stomach cancer
What causes stomach cancer?
Stomach cancer occurs when there is an uncontrolled growth of cancer cells in the stomach. The exact cause of stomach cancer is unknown. However, several factors can increase your risk of getting the disease.
Risk factors for stomach cancer include:
- Helicobacter pylori (H pylori) infection: H pylori is one of the major risk factors for stomach cancer. It can cause stomach conditions such as atrophic gastritis and intestinal metaplasia that can later form cancerous lesions.
- Male sex: Stomach cancer risk is higher in men than in women.
- Advanced age: Stomach cancer is more common in people older than 50 years, and most patients get diagnosed between their late 60s and 80s.
- Ethnicity: In the United States, stomach cancer is more common in Hispanic Americans, African Americans, Native Americans, and Asian or Pacific Islanders.
- Diet: Regular consumption of certain foods such as smoked, salted fish and meat and pickled vegetables increases the risk of stomach cancer. Cured meats contain cancer-causing substances such as nitrates and nitrites that are changed to more potent compounds by bacteria such as H pylori.
- Alcohol: Excessive alcohol consumption (3 or more drinks a day) increases stomach cancer risk.
- Smoking: Cigarette smoking can almost double stomach cancer risk.
- Family history of stomach cancer: People who have a history of stomach cancer in first-degree relatives (parents, siblings, or children) may have a higher chance of developing stomach cancer.
- Stomach lymphoma: Lymphomas are a type of cancer affecting the lymphatic system, which plays a role in immunity. Mucosa-associated lymphoid tissue lymphoma increases the risk of stomach cancer.
- Higher BMI: Being overweight or obese may increase the risk of stomach cancer, especially in the upper part or cardia of the stomach.
- History of stomach surgery: Previous stomach surgeries, such as surgery for stomach ulcers, may increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Certain inherited conditions: Pernicious anemia (a type of anemia due to the failure of the stomach to make intrinsic factor that is needed for vitamin B12 absorption), familial adenomatous polyposis, and Lynch syndrome (hereditary nonpolyposis colorectal cancer) can increase the risk of stomach cancer.
- Type A blood group: People with type A blood group are at a higher risk of stomach cancer than those with other blood types.
- Certain occupations: People working in coal, metal, or rubber industries could be at a higher risk of getting stomach cancer.
- Epstein-Barr virus infection: Epstein-Barr virus infection may increase stomach cancer risk, although it is not clear how or why.
How can I lower my risk of getting stomach cancer?
Because stomach cancer is caused by a variety of factors, there is no single way to prevent developing the disease. However, you can lower your risk with the following measures:
- Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables
- Avoid processed foods as much as possible
- Quit smoking
- Limit alcohol intake
- Maintain healthy weight
- Getting treatment for H pylori infection
- Managing stress
- Undergo screening if you have any risk factors for stomach cancer
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Lee SP, Sung IK, Kim JH, Lee SY, Park HS, Shim CS. The effect of emotional stress and depression on the prevalence of digestive diseases. J Neurogastroenterol Motil. 2015;21(2):273-282. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4398234/
American Cancer Society. Can Stomach Cancer Be Prevented? https://www.cancer.org/cancer/stomach-cancer/causes-risks-prevention/prevention.html
Cancer Research UK. Can stress cause cancer? https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/about-cancer/causes-of-cancer/cancer-myths/can-stress-cause-cancer
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