APR 23, 2016 08:21 AM PDT

Evidence Ties Booze and Bacon to Stomach Cancer

Alcohol, processed meats may raise stomach cancer risk
As the weather gets warmer, many people will break out the grills for summer barbeques. But a new study suggests that we should lay off the bacons, hotdogs, and beers, as they found processed meats and alcohol increases stomach cancer risks significantly.
Stomach cancer, also known as gastric cancer, is the fifth most common cancer worldwide and the third most common cause of cancer-related deaths. About 1 in 111 people will develop stomach cancer in their lifetime, though the risks are higher for men. For 2016, the estimated incidence of new cases is over 37,000 for the U.S. alone. Due to late diagnoses, the outcome is poor with this cancer type and only about 25 percent of people survive past the five-year mark.
Known causes of stomach cancer include smoking, infection with Helicobacter pylori, and industrial chemical exposures, such as that found in coal mining, rubber and metal manufacturing plants. But it also seems logical that what we eat has strong effects on stomach cancer risks. Indeed, diet has long been suspected, but never formally tested.
In a review published by the American Institute for Cancer Research and the World Cancer Research Fund, researcher sought definitive evidence for this link. They analyzed evidence from 89 studies worldwide, which totaled 17.5 million adults and nearly 77,000 cases of stomach cancer. With such a large sample size, it was easy for the researcher to see pattern emerge.
And the patterns were pretty strong against processed meats and alcohol. They found that stomach cancer risks soared with the consumption of three or more alcoholic drinks per day. And for every 1.8 ounces of processed meats consumed, stomach cancer risks increased by 18 percent. For reference, a hotdog or a few slices of bologna easily equal the 1.8 ounces of meat. Excess weight and obesity may further exacerbate the risks.
"This is the first report to find strong evidence of these links," said Alice Bender, head of nutrition programs at the cancer institute. "There are things we can do to lower our risk for cancer. There are choices we make every day that can make a difference."
It may seem like everything we ingest or get exposed to inevitably cause cancer. But a diet heavy in alcohol and processed meats does seem to have plausible associations to stomach cancer. Alcohol is implicated in facilitating carcinogen’s incorporation into cells, or otherwise becoming a carcinogen as the body breaks it down. Recently, a study found a link between alcohol consumption and increased breast cancer risks. Processed meats – like hotdogs, ham, and bacon – are notorious for containing preservatives, including nitrates, salt, and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) when smoked. These have also been linked to cancer previously.
"We can't pinpoint any one thing, but there are a number of plausible mechanisms why processed meat would increase the risk of stomach cancer," said Bender.
Overall, the review study reports an association, not a cause-and-effect relationship, between diet choices and stomach cancer. Even still, "People should lower their intake of processed meat and consider it something they eat more on occasion, rather than a regular part of their diet," said Marji McCullough, strategic director of nutritional epidemiology for the American Cancer Society.

Additional source: US National Library of Medicine
About the Author
  • I am a human geneticist, passionate about telling stories to make science more engaging and approachable. Find more of my writing at the Hopkins BioMedical Odyssey blog and at TheGeneTwist.com.
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