Stomach cancer cases halve in Great Britain

Stomach cancer cases in Great Britain have dropped by nearly half, Cancer Research UK reveals.

By Joanne Ellul

The new figures show that stomach cancer cases 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 5,900 in 1975 to around 2,650 in 2006. Cases in men have nearly halved, dropping from their peak of nearly 8,300 cases in 1980 down to around 4,800 cases in 2006.

The major cause of stomach cancer is a common bacterium called Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori). A spokesperson for Cancer Research UK said the main factor that contributed to the fall was a decrease in this infection. This is due to better living conditions and less overcrowding.

Around one in five stomach cancers in Europe is caused by smoking. Smoking rates have roughly halved over the last 30 years.

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.

Despite the decrease, the latest National Diet and Nutrition Survey suggest that men and women consumed, on average, fewer than three portions of fruit and vegetables a day. Adults are less likely to eat cooked vegetables than those who took part in the 1986/87 survey.

A 2008 dietary sodium survey by the Food Standards Agency (FSA) suggested that the FSA had not yet reached their target of reducing salt consumption across the population to 6g per day. The dietary intake of sodium in the study was 9.7g for men and 7.7 g, respectively.

Dr Lesley Walker, Cancer Research UK director of cancer information, said: "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."

Stomach cancer is the seventh most common cause of cancer death with more than 5200 people dying from the disease every year.

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