The cancer among East Asians is likely linked to their diet

A study has found that Chinese people have a higher risk of developing stomach cancer than Malays.

Asia One reports that Chinese have a 3-4 times higher risk of developing stomach cancer compared to Malays, according to consultant clinical oncologist Datuk Dr Mohamed Ibrahim A. Wahid.

Indians also have a similar risk of developing the cancer as the Chinese.

It is suspected that risk for East Asians is a result of their diet.

“Because the stomach is where you process your food, diet comes into play,” said Dr Ibrahim. “So there might be a dietary component to this – eating raw fish, eating kimchi or some aspects of the diet that may make it more common.”

A diet which is high in salt and comprises of pickled foods and/or processed meats increases the risk of stomach cancer. Additionally, being male, smoking, having a diet low in fibre and having a family history of stomach cancer are also risk inducing.

“H. pylori can cause stomach ulcers, and sometimes, chronic stomach ulceration can increase the risk of stomach cancer,” said Dr Ibrahim. “A person should get screened for stomach cancer if they have abdominal and gastric symptoms that won’t go away, like discomfort and pain; unexplained weight loss; and stool that is tar black in colour.”

“One of the sad things about stomach cancer is that we see them in patients who are quite young in Malaysia, sometimes in their 40s, in their 50s, so they are still quite young,” he said.

Three in four patients are diagnosed patients are diagnosed when they are already in stages 3 and 4 of the disease when the cancer has already spread beyond the stomach.

“By and large, stomach cancers are, in the early stage, asymptomatic, that is, they don’t have symptoms. As the cancer grows, they might start to get symptoms, and one of the common symptoms is gastric pain – pain in the upper part of the abdomen,” said Dr Ibrahim.

“In the later stages, they may have difficulty swallowing, because the upper part of the stomach where the food enters can get blocked; and nausea and vomiting, because of gastric outlet obstruction, where the tumour may block the flow of digested food from the stomach to the duodenum.”

“And then if it spreads, you might get bone pain; you might have a distended liver, so you have a distended abdomen; and you might have fluid in your abdomen – a condition called ascites – as the tumour spreads to the local area,” he added.

However, stomach cancer is not very common in Malaysia. “In Malaysia, it is not so common; it is the 10th most common cancer in females, and in males, the eighth most common cancer,” said the doctor.