Cancer Research UK figures out today reveal that stomach cancer cases in Great Britain have dropped by nearly half from around 14,000 in 1975 to 7,485 in 2006.
Cases in women have dropped by more than half from around 5900 in 1975 to around 2650 in 2006. And cases in men have nearly halved, dropping from their peak of nearly 8300 cases in 1980 down to around 4800 cases in 2006.
The number of cases has dropped as lifestyles have become healthier. Infection, smoking and diet are three key risk factors for stomach cancer.
A common stomach bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori) is the major cause of stomach cancer. Better living conditions with less overcrowding has led to a decrease in H. pylori infection. It is the decrease in infection that is thought to be a major reason for the fall in cases of stomach cancer.
Cancer Research UK researchers first revealed the link between H. pylori and stomach cancer in studies in rural China in 1990 and in middle-aged men in England and Wales in 1991.
Refrigeration has also had a major impact on reducing cases of stomach cancer. Keeping food cool meant that fresh food could be kept longer and fewer additives were needed to preserve food.
A poor diet low in fruit and vegetables and high in salt also increases the risk of stomach cancer as does a family history of the disease.
Smoking doubles the risk of developing the disease with around one in five stomach cancers in Europe caused by smoking.
Smoking rates have also fallen over the last 30 years. In the early 1970s around 50 per cent of men and around 40 per cent of women smoked. Today the figure for men is around 22 per cent and 20 per cent for women.
Stomach cancer is the seventh most common cause of cancer death with more than 5200 people dying from the disease every year.
Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK director of cancer information, said: “These figures illustrate that stomach cancer is largely preventable. Healthier living conditions, fewer infections, better diets and lower smoking rates mean fewer people are developing the disease. More cases can still be prevented.
“It’s important that people know how to reduce their risk of the disease. Fruit and vegetables have a protective effect against stomach cancer and people with diets high in salt have an increased risk. A healthy diet high in fruit, veg and fibre, low in red and processed meat and salt helps reduce the risk of not just stomach cancer but many different cancers.”
For media enquiries please contact the Cancer Research UK press office on 020 7061 8300 or, out-of-hours, the duty press officer on 07050 264 059.
To access the full figures click here.