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New study sheds light on S. Korea's high stomach cancer rate

Oct. 21, 2023 - 16:01 By Moon Ki Hoon

Stomach cancer is especially common among Koreans, with data from the National Cancer Center of Korea identifying it as the most common type of cancer in the country from 1999 to 2018.

Although Korea reports a lower overall cancer incidence rate compared to the US and UK, its rate of stomach cancer is nearly 10 times higher.

Looking to find potential reasons why, a new study led by Dr. Choi Kui-son of the National Cancer Center of Korea has found a lack of exercise to be the most common risk factor for stomach cancer here.

The study, published in the latest edition of Scientific Reports on Monday, looked into the lifestyle risk factors associated with the disease by interviewing 3,539 adults aged 40-74 from the 2019 Korean National Cancer Screening Survey. The risk factors considered were smoking, drinking, physical inactivity, overweight, high intake of red or processed meat, and high intake of salt.

Of the six categories, physical inactivity turned out the most common risk factor identified (61.5 percent), followed by smoking in men (52.2 percent) and high salt intake in women (28.5 percent). In assessing the overlap of multiple risk factors, the study showed that 12.1 percent of females were both physically inactive and had a high salt intake, while 13.6 percent of males were both smokers and inactive. And 6.5 percent of males exhibited all three risk factors -- smoking, inactivity, and excessive salt consumption.

The study also found that individuals with multiple risk factors were less likely to get routine stomach cancer screenings, showing a correlation between unhealthy living and lower cancer awareness.

This trend raises red flags as early detection is crucial to successful stomach cancer treatment -- people who receive endoscopic examination every two years are 81 percent less likely to die from the disease, according to a 2017 National Cancer Center study.

"Individuals with unhealthy lifestyles tend to overlook the importance of routine cancer screenings," Dr. Choi, the lead researcher of the study, said. "To combat the risk of stomach cancer, it is important to maintain a healthy lifestyle and undergo regular checkups."