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According to an article recently published in the International Journal of Cancer, diets high in fruits and vegetables appear to reduce the risk of developing stomach cancer, even if they are consumed in relatively small amounts.

Gastric cancer (stomach cancer) is characterized by the presence of cancer cells in the tissues of the stomach, which is located in the upper abdomen. Stomach cancer is currently the second leading cause of cancer death worldwide. While stomach cancer rates have been steadily declining, it is still the leading cause of cancer in Japan, accounting for 18% of cancer deaths there.

One important goal of cancer research is to identify environmental risk factors for different types of cancer. Some factors such as diet, exercise, pollution and stress have been associated with a higher incidence of some types of cancer. Conversely, other factors have been associated with a lower incidence of some types of cancer with high exposure to one or more of them. Researchers continue to evaluate environmental factors that can either increase or reduce the risk of developing certain types of cancer so that better strategies for prevention and/or screening can be produced and implemented.

Japanese scientists conducted a 10-year study of 19,304 men and 20,689 women living in four different health center areas of Japan. Starting in 1990, participants regularly completed questionnaires on their diet and other potential risk factors. By the end of the study, 404 participants had developed stomach cancer. After adjusting the data for age, gender, drinking, smoking and other potential confounding factors, the authors reported that the top 20% of individuals consuming vegetables and fruits on a weekly basis were 25% less likely to develop stomach cancer compared to those whose intake of fruits and vegetables was in the bottom 20%. They also suggested that “white” vegetables, such as Chinese cabbage or cucumbers, appeared to be the most protective; individuals who ate them at least one day a week were 52% less likely to develop stomach cancer than those who rarely at them. Consumption of “yellow” vegetables (e.g., carrots or pumpkin) at least one day per week was linked to a 36% drop in stomach cancer risk, while weekly consumption of fruit was associated with 30% less likelihood of developing stomach cancer.

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The researchers concluded that “this prospective study suggests that vegetable and fruit intake, even in low amounts, is associated with a lower risk of gastric cancer”.

Reference: Kobayashi M, Tsubono Y, Sasasuki S, et al. Vegetables, fruit and risk of gastric cancer in Japan: a 10-year follow-up of the JPHC Study Cohort I. International Journal of Cancer. 2002;102:39-44.