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What are the risk factors?

The exact causes of stomach and oesophageal cancers are unknown, but the factors listed below may increase your risk. Having one or more of these risk factors does not mean you will develop cancer.

  • older age (being over 60)
  • infection with Helicobacter pylori (H. pylori), a type of bacteria found in the stomach
  • having had a subtotal gastrectomy to treat non-cancerous conditions
  • smoking
  • low red blood cell levels (pernicious anaemia)
  • a family history of stomach cancer
  • having an inherited genetic condition such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP), Lynch syndrome, gastric adenocarcinoma and proximal polyposis of the stomach (GAPPS) or hereditary diffuse gastric cancer (HDGC)
  • 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 gastrooesophageal reflux disease (GORD) and Barrett’s oesophagus
  • smoking
  • older age (being over 60)
  • having an inherited genetic condition such as PeutzJeghers syndrome (PJS) or Cowden syndrome

Squamous cell carcinoma

  • drinking alcohol
  • smoking
  • older age (being over 60)
  • drinking very hot liquids

Reflux is when stomach acid flows up 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, causing inflammation or ulceration (oesophagitis). This may cause the squamous cells lining the oesophagus to be replaced by column-shaped cells, which look like the cells lining the stomach. 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 cell changes that may lead to cancer. Most people with Barrett’s oesophagus will not develop oesophageal cancer.