April is Oesophageal Cancer Awareness Month

Gastric and oesophageal cancers risk factors and prevention

Risk Factors

A risk factor is anything that increases your chance of getting a disease. Different cancers have different risk factors. There are risk factors related to lifestyle (i.e. ones you can do something about) and risk factors that you cannot control.

Risk factors

Risk factors for oesophageal cancer

It’s thought that chronic irritation of the oesophagus may contribute to the changes that cause oesophageal cancer. Factors that cause irritation in the cells of your oesophagus and increase your risk of oesophageal cancer include:

  • Gender: Oesophageal cancer is around 8-times more common in men than in women.
  • Age: The chance of getting oesophageal cancer increases with age. Fewer than 15% of cases are found in people younger than age 55.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): People with GERD (otherwise known as acid reflux) have a slightly higher risk of getting oesophageal cancer. But GERD can also cause Barrett’s oesophagus (see below), which is also linked to a higher risk.
  • Barrett’s oesophagus: This is a pre-cancerous lesion that develops in around 6–14% of patients with GERD and of which, around 0.5–1% will develop oesophageal cancer. Read more about Barrett’s oesophagus here.
  • Smoking: Those who smoke have around three times the risk of getting oesophageal cancer compared with those who don’t.
  • Being obese: Those with a body mass index (BMI) of over 25 have about double the overall risk of developing oesophageal cancer compared with those who are normal weight.

Risk factors for gastric cancer

Factors that increase the risk of gastric cancer include:

  • Gender: Men are around twice as likely to get gastric cancer than women.
  • Age: There is a sharp increase in stomach cancer rates in people over age 50. Most people diagnosed with stomach cancer are between their late 60s and 80s.
  • Infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori): Infection with  pylori bacteria seems to be a major cause of gastric cancer. Approximately half of the world’s population is infected with H. pylori, and it has been estimated that approximately 3% of H. pylori-infected patients develop gastric cancer.
  • Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD): People with GERD (otherwise known as acid reflux) have a slightly higher risk of getting gastric cancer.
  • Smoking: Those who smoke have around double the risk of gastric cancer compared with those who don’t.
  • Being obese: Overweight and obesity are associated with a slightly increased risk of gastric cancer.
  • Diet: There is an increased risk of gastric cancer for those with diets high in salted meat, stewed meat and smoked foods.

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