The mortality and incidence from stomach cancer were compared in Japan (a country with a high incidence where there was full application of mass screening during this period) and 2 countries with no screening policy: the USA (with a very low incidence) and Slovenia (with an intermediate rate). The registered cases of stomach cancer were from the Osaka Cancer Registry, the Slovenian National Cancer Registry and the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER) registries in the USA. In the period 1975–95, the age-adjusted incidence rate (/100,000) of stomach cancer declined in the 3 countries, as follows: Japan, from 76.0 to 53.0 in men and 38.4 to 21.3 in women; Slovenia, from 40.2 to 24.1 in men and 16.6 to 10.8 in women; and the USA, from 9.5 to 6.9 in men and 4.3 to 2.9 in women. During the same period, the age-adjusted mortality rate declined, as follows: Japan, from 60.2 to 34.2 in men and 30.5 to 14.1 in women; Slovenia, from 37.7 to 21.2 in men and 13.8 to 9.0 in women; the USA, from 5.6 to 4.7 in men and 2.5 to 2.3 in women. In the period studied, specific trends on incidence and mortality with a cohort effect occurred only in Japan: analysis by the age period-cohort model confirmed that the decline has occurred since the generations born in 1910. The trend therefore corresponds to unplanned prevention through changes in environmental factors occurring since the early 20th century. The study of stage-specific incidence rates confirmed the declining trend for regional cancer, whereas there was an increase in the incidence of localized cancer, associated with a period effect in 1975–95. This is attributed to the policy of early detection of stomach cancer, with the inclusion of intramucosal lesions of favorable prognosis and explains why mortality decreased faster than incidence during the period. © 2001 Wiley-Liss, Inc.