U.S. Minorities Overly Affected By Stomach Cancer: How to Avoid

New research confirms past probes of stomach cancer disproportionately affecting minorities in the United States. Nonetheless, dietary and lifestyle changes can reduce the risk of developing the disease.

Key takeaways:
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    Stanford study points to more needs for stomach cancer patients in the United States, predominantly those in minority communities.
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    East Asian counties tend to have more cases of stomach cancer, with economic strength playing a major factor.
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    Steps to better personal health can help prevent stomach cancer along with its other forms.

Stomach (gastric) cancer is not very prevalent in the United States, with only 1.5% of all new cancer diagnoses representing the disease. Despite this, data shows minorities — especially Asian Americans — are more vulnerable to stomach cancer.

A new study from Stanford headed by Joo Ha Hwang, MD, Ph.D., professor of gastroenterology and hepatology at Stanford Medicine, explores the prevalence of stomach cancer in U.S. minority communities. Hwang concludes Asian Americans, specifically Korean Americans, are more likely to obtain gastric cancer.

Why are Asian populations are more at risk?

There were over one million new cases of gastric cancer in 2020 and an estimated 769,000 deaths. The disease is more prevalent in Asia, especially in countries like Japan, Mongolia, and China. Like Hwang’s conclusions, another study from China finds reasons behind the prevalence of stomach cancer in Mongolia, China, Japan, the Republic of Korea, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

They found socioeconomic class to be a key factor, with less developed countries like China and Mongolia having higher cases along with deaths than more advanced countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea. The researchers also highlight malnutrition leading and low screening opportunities playing a major factor.

In countries like Japan and the Republic of Korea, cancer was easier detected due to screening technology and availability not as present in developing countries. High-sodium diets and smoking were named as potential risk factors, and are both popular lifestyles in many Asian countries.

A large connection to stomach cancer and a common illness in many Eastern Asian Countries is Helicobacter pylori infection, which in many cases can be asymptomatic. When symptoms do on-set, they may include:

  • Nausea
  • Loss of appetite
  • Intense stomach pain
  • Achey or burning sensation within the stomach
  • Constant burning or bloating

Stomach Cancer in the U.S.

Due to H. pylori infection having more of an impact on less developed countries, that makes immigrants to the U.S. from high-risk countries are more likely to receive the illness. In Hwang’s research, he concluded there is a massive need for cancer prevention trials serving high-risk immigrant and minority populations.

In a conversation with Stanford Medicine, Hwang emphasized the importance of increasing cancer screening in the U.S.

"Japan and Korea have national stomach cancer screening programs because the incidence of gastric cancer is so high. If you identify gastric cancer early, it can be treated.” Hwang said. “In the U.S., because we don't screen as often and catch it early, only 30% of patients who are diagnosed with stomach cancer reach the five-year survival mark. In Japan and Korea, the survival rate at five years is 60% to 70%."

Joo Ha Hwang, MD, Ph.D.

While Hwang’s research primarily focuses on California, another study on the opposite coast found minorities were disproportionally affected by stomach cancer as well. The New York City study concluded the mortality rate in non‐cardia gastric cancer was two-threefold higher in Hispanics, Blacks, and Asian/Pacific Islanders.

Based on stats from the American Cancer Society, there are currently an estimated 26,380 cases of stomach cancer and 11,090 deaths in 2022. The average age of a person diagnosed is 68 years old.

Steps to prevent gastric cancer

Like any disease, only so many precautions can be taken to prevent an outcome. However, some precautions can be taken to prevent higher chances of cancer.

Diets that include vegetables and fruits, especially citrus fruits including oranges, lemons, and grapefruits, are listed as stomach cancer fighters. Also consuming whole-grain bread, less processed meats, and fewer sugar-filled drinks can be key in preventing stomach cancer.

Also, maintaining physical fitness through exercise is key. Cutting out excessive amounts of drinking, and finding a way to quit smoking are two ways that can also decrease your chances of stomach cancer.

Also, it is important to have knowledge of your family history. Hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC) is a unique illness that increases the risk of stomach cancer and often develops at a young age. Often those with HDGC are sent to a genetics professional to undergo possible genetic testing, leading to possible stomach removal if the mutation is spotted in the CDH1 gene and permanent eating habit changes.

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