By Sara Bondell
Stomach cancer, a disease typically afflicting the elderly, is increasing among Americans under 50, particularly women.
A new study by the National Cancer Institute tracked the incidence of lower stomach cancer, known as noncardia gastric cancer, in the United States. The study was published in January in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.
Incidents of lower stomach cancer among Americans over 50 declined an average of 2.6 percent every year between 1995 and 2013, researchers found. Incidents for people under 50 increased an average of 1.3 percent in the same time period. Of those, the cancer cases among women grew at least twice the rate of men.
Doctors at Moffitt Cancer Center have started to see a rise in lower gastric cancer in younger women.
"That has been really alarming for most clinicians who practice cancer across the United States," said Dr. Rutika Mehta, a gastrointestinal oncologist at Moffitt.
The study did not uncover the reasons for the increase, but the authors pointed to increased antibiotic use, particularly among women.
"I don’t blame all antibiotics, but like with any medication there are always side effects or changes in your body system," Mehta said. Antibiotics that affect the stomach could give rise to gastric cancers, she added.
Studies show that women take more antibiotics than men and are affected more by autoimmune diseases, which can also lead to cancer, Mehta said.
"Unfortunately younger women are in the sub-group of the population who are at high risk due to these factors," she said.
Continued research will answer these questions, she said.
"I don’t think we are there yet to tell all young women to start screening for stomach cancer, but the investigation does put a lot of food for thought for researchers like us in large cancer centers,” Mehta said. "What can we do to minimize the impact of this disease in this younger population is the big question. It gives us a lot to study now."