Epstein-Barr virus (EBV) has recently been identified in the tumor cells of patients with gastric carcinoma. We tested pre-morbid serum samples from a carefully monitored cohort of Japanese men in order to investigate the possibility that patients with EBV-associated gastric cancer represent a sub-set of individuals with long-standing difficulties in appropriately managing EBV infection. From a serum bank, we obtained 108 samples derived from 54 patients destined to develop gastric adenocarcinoma and 54 controls. Samples were tested under code for antibodies to EBV-capsid antigen, early antigen and nuclear antigen. Individuals who were positive for IgA antibodies against EBV viral-capsid antigen (VCA) and IgG antibodies against the R component of EBV early antigen were at a 3.9-fold and 1.9-fold excess risk of disease, respectively. Antibody titers to EBV VCA were significantly higher in those destined to get EBV-associated gastric cancer than those subsequently developing non-EBV-associated gastric cancer or age-and-gender-matched controls. These findings suggest that the inability to control EBV infection on a long-term basis exists many years prior to the development of EBV-associated gastric cancer, and that EBV may play an etiologic role in this sub-set of malignancies.