Using stored serum samples collected during from 1970 to 1972 and/or 1977 to 1979 from a fixed population in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Japan, serum ferritin, transferrin, and ceruloplasmin levels were determined immunologically for persons in whom stomach (233 cases) or lung cancer (84 cases) subsequently developed as well as for their controls. An elevated stomach cancer risk was associated with low antecedent serum ferritin levels, with more than a threefold excess among those in the lowest compared with the highest ferritin quintile. The risk did not vary with the time between blood collection and stomach cancer onset, remaining high among those with low ferritin levels 5 or more years before cancer diagnosis. Achlorhydria, diagnosed in a sample of the population about 10 years before the 1970-to-1972 blood collection and up to 25 years before cancer, was an independent marker of stomach cancer risk. In combination, low serum ferritin and achlorhydria were associated with a tenfold increase in the subsequent risk. No effect of transferrin or ceruloplasmin, independent of ferritin, was observed in the gastric cancer risk, and the risk of lung cancer was not related to these three serum proteins. These prospective findings indicate that biologic markers of an increased risk of stomach cancer can be detected long before cancer onset.