Is Your Love for Spicy Food Putting You at Risk for Stomach Cancer?


Patient Education

Is Your Love for Spicy Food Putting You at Risk for Stomach Cancer?

It is no secret that Singaporeans love spicy food. From the tongue-numbing Ma La originating from Chongqing, China to spicy sambal from our favourite Nasi Padang stalls, spice is almost essential for our daily meals here on this sunny island. While spice elevates our food, is it really good for our health to consume spicy food on the regular?

The Link Between Spicy Food and Cancer 

Most spicy Singaporean dishes contain capsaicin, the main pungent active substance of spicy foods and is often found in chilli, pepper and kimchi. Capsaicin is consumed worldwide but has a long and controversial history as it is not known if it is safe for regular consumption. While there have been studies that suggest capsaicin can act as a cancer preventive agent, and frequent consumption protects against the risk of gastrointestinal cancers, there are also researches that show that a high dose of capsaicin allows it to act as a carcinogen in our body. Based on a large Chinese cohort study featured by OXFORD Academic, International Journal of Epidemiology Volume 50, Issue 1, February 2021, it  showed an inverse relationship between spicy food intake and oesophageal cancer risk. With non- or rare consumption as reference, monthly consumption reduced the risk by 12 percent, 1–2 days/week by 24 percent, 3–5 days/week by 16 percent, and 6–7 days/week by 19 percent.

However, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), a branch of the National Institute of Health (NIH) - U.S. Dept of Health & Human Services, four out of 39 studies done in 2017 reported an association between high intake of spicy food and the risk of gastric cancer, esophageal cancer and gallbladder cancer. Among the same 39 studies, another 19 indicated that high-level consumption of capsaicin-containing foods was associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Control studies also suggested that a higher level of spicy food intake may be associated with an increased incidence of cancer despite significant heterogeneity. However, more studies are warranted to clarify our understanding of the association between high spicy food intake and the risk of cancer.

The conflicting conclusions of both studies show that the link between spicy food intake and stomach cancer is still inconclusive, which means that individuals should not increase consumption of spicy food or avoid them completely. Instead, you should explore other methods such as having a balanced diet, looking out for symptoms and going for regular health checkups, which are proven methods of reducing your risk of contracting stomach cancer.

Symptoms of Stomach Cancer

Being the seventh most common cancer in men and ninth most common cancer in women, stomach cancer takes more than 300 lives in Singapore each year. While more than two-thirds of stomach cancer patients are only diagnosed at later stages, this disease is potentially curable with early detection.

In order to detect stomach cancer in its early stages, you will have to pay attention to its symptoms, though it might be vague in the beginning. Early symptoms can include indigestion, pain or discomfort in the abdomen, nausea and vomiting shortly after eating, the sensation of food getting stuck in the throat while eating. Advanced symptoms include unexplained weight loss, vomiting blood or bloody stools.

If you are unsure if you are experiencing stomach cancer symptoms, OncoCare is able to help you put your mind at ease with accurate tests & diagnosis. Our team of oncologists / oncology consultants  will provide you with the full diagnosis and workup with the latest modern imaging methods for computed tomography (CT), magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), positron emission tomography (PET) scanning (whole-body PET/CT or PET/MRI scans) and high-resolution ultrasound. Gastroscopy is usually required to thoroughly check  ….. and biopsy will be performed to pick up tissues from abnormal sites.  A full diagnosis and workup can be done efficiently as an outpatient procedure, day surgery or an overnight stay.

Treatments for Stomach Cancer

There are many cancer treatments available for stomach cancer patients in Singapore - surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy and more, although the recovery process is typically long. Treatment recommendations will depend on factors such as the type of cancer, possible side effects and the patient’s overall health. Your specialist or medical oncologist might also recommend a combination of treatments.

Find out more about cancer treatments on our website now.

"Expert knowledge means better care for cancer"

Written by:
Dr Thomas Soh
MBBS (Singapore)
MRCP (United Kingdom)