News Release

Diets high in red meat linked to stomach and esophageal cancers

Peer-Reviewed Publication

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition

Dietary factors are recognized as contributing to the development of stomach and esophagus cancers. In a study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Chen et al. examined overall dietary patterns among patients diagnosed with distal stomach cancer, esophageal cancer, or cancer-free controls. Results suggest that several dietary patterns, particularly those high in red meat, confer a higher risk of stomach or esophageal cancer than other types of diets.

All participants in the study were white male or female residents of eastern Nebraska, 124 of whom had been diagnosed with stomach cancer, 124 with esophageal cancer, and 449 healthy controls. Interviewers conducted telephone dietary assessments with the case patients and control subjects or their proxies from 1992 to 1994. Food items on the questionnaire were sorted into 24 different groups that were used to establish a food-intake pattern for each participant.

Of all the dietary patterns identified, the “High Meat” diet tended to be associated with a 3.6-fold higher risk of esophageal cancer and 2-fold higher risk of stomach cancer when compared with the “Healthy Diet”. The “High Milk” diet, which also included large amounts of red meat, tended to be associated with 2-fold risk of both types of cancer. These two dietary patterns were more prevalent among the cancer patients, with 33% of stomach cancer patients and 35% of the esophageal cancer patients consuming either the “High Meat” or “High Milk” diet.

The analysis by Chen et al. suggests that red meat in particular may present a significant risk for these types of cancers, and that diets high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains may reduce risk. An accompanying editorial by Erickson traces the history and epidemiology of the varieties of stomach and esophageal cancer found in the United States. Recent changes in Americans’ diets, food preparation methods, individual cancer treatments, and lifestyles could influence dietary selection as well as cancer risk.


Chen, Honlei, et al. Dietary patterns and adenocarcinoma of the esophagus and distal stomach. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;75:137-44.

Erickson, Kent L. Dietary pattern analysis: a different approach to analyzing an old problem, cancer of the esophagus and stomach. Am J Clin Nutr 2002;75:5-7.

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