Study Suggests Diets Rich in Meats, Especially Red and Processed Varieties, May Increase the Risk of Stomach Cancer

People who enjoy a meat-heavy diet or one that includes a significant amount of processed and/or red meat may want to consider the results of a new study that suggests they may be at a higher risk of developing a certain type of stomach cancer known as gastric noncardia cancer.

In the study, published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, researchers analyzed diet-related data on more than 500,000 adults in 10 European countries over a period of 6½ years.

Although most of those studied did not develop stomach cancer, those who consumed meat-rich (and were infected with a certain bacterium) were more likely to get gastric noncardia cancer..

At the start of the study, most participants were 35-70 years old and were not known to have cancer. Each participant gave blood samples and completed questionnaires about their diets and lifestyles. They were asked to estimate their daily intake of red meat (pork, beef, veal, lamb), poultry (chicken, turkey, duck), processed meat (ham, bacon, sausages, processed meat cuts, hamburgers, meatballs, pates), vegetables and fruit.

They were also asked about smoking, alcohol use, and physical activity. Since the study was purely an observational one, no one was asked to change anything about their diets or lifestyles.

A total of 330 participants developed stomach cancer during the course of the study. The researchers considered that to be a “relatively low” number for such a large group.

Although te team advocated the need for additional study, they did find that people who ate more meat, especially of the processed and red varieties, had an increased risk of developing gastric noncardia cancer. “Noncardia” refers to the cancer’s location in the stomach, the cardia, which is the part of the stomach nearest to the esophagus.

The elevated risk group was primarily people infected with the intestinal bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), which may cause inflammation, irritation, or erosion of the stomach’s lining (gastritis).

Although chronic gastritis can lead to ulcers and stomach cancer if allowed to go untreated, H. pylori is common and does not always lead to ulcers or stomach cancer.

In addition to the above observations, the researchers also noted that: (1) meat consumption varied widely between countries; (2) people who ate the most red meat were more likely to have ever smoked than those who ate the least red meat. Smokers have increased risk for stomach cancer; and (3) people who ate the most processed meat ate fewer fruits and vegetables than those who ate the least amount of processed meat.

Since the study was purely observational and made no medical findings, the researchers did not include any dietary recommendations, nor did the study prove that meat caused any of the stomach cancers suffered by participants.

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