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What are the risk factors?

The exact causes of stomach and oesophageal cancers are not known. Research shows that the factors listed below may increase your risk. Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean you will develop cancer. Some people have these risk factors and do not develop stomach or oesophageal cancer.

  • older age (being over 60)
  • infection with the bacteria Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori)
  • treating non-cancerous conditions with a subtotal gastrectomy
  • smoking tobacco
  • low red blood cell levels related to pernicious anaemia
  • a family history of stomach cancer
  • having an inherited genetic condition like familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Lynch syndrome, hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC), gastric adenocarcinoma and proximal polyposis of the stomach (GAPPS)
  • chronic inflammation of the stomach (chronic gastritis)
  • being overweight or obese
  • drinking alcohol
  • eating foods preserved by salting

Adenocarcinoma

  • being overweight or obese
  • medical conditions, including gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and Barrett’s oesophagus
  • smoking tobacco
  • older age (being over 60)
  • having an inherited genetic condition such as Peutz-Jeghers syndrome (PJS) or Cowden syndrome

Squamous cell carcinoma

  • drinking alcohol
  • smoking tobacco
  • older age (being over 60)
  • damage to the oesophagus from hot or corrosive liquids such as acid

GORD and Barrett’s oesophagus

Reflux is when stomach acid goes back into the oesophagus. Some people with reflux are diagnosed with gastro-oesophageal reflux disease (GORD).

Over time, stomach acid can damage the lining of the oesophagus and cause inflammation or ulcers (oesophagitis). This causes the cells lining the oesophagus to change to look like the cells lining the small bowel. This condition is called Barrett’s oesophagus and it can lead to oesophageal adenocarcinoma.

If you have Barrett’s oesophagus, your doctor may recommend you have regular endoscopies to look for early changes to the cells that may cause cancer.

Most people who have Barrett’s oesophagus will not develop oesophageal cancer.

Featured resources

Oesophagogastric cancer - Your guide to best cancer care

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Understanding Stomach and Oesophageal Cancers

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This information is reviewed by

This information was last reviewed October 2021 by the following expert content reviewers: Dr Spiro Raftopoulos, Gastroenterologist, Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital, WA; Peter Blyth, Consumer; Jeff Bull, Upper Gastrointestinal Cancer Nurse Consultant, Cancer Services, Southern Adelaide Local Health Network, SA; Mick Daws, Consumer; Dr Steven Leibman, Upper Gastrointestinal Surgeon, Royal North Shore Hospital, NSW; Prof Michael Michael, Medical Oncologist, Lower and Upper Gastrointestinal Oncology Service, and Co-Chair Neuroendocrine Unit, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Dr Andrew Oar, Radiation Oncologist, Icon Cancer Centre, Royal Brisbane Hospital, QLD; Rose Rocca, Senior Clinical Dietitian: Upper Gastrointestinal, Nutrition and Speech Pathology Department, Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, VIC; Letchemi Valautha, Consumer; Lesley Woods, 13 11 20 Consultant, Cancer Council WA.