Gastric cancer remains highly prevalent and accounts for a notable proportion of global cancer mortality. This cancer is also associated with poor survival rates. Understanding the genetic basis of gastric cancer will offer insights into its pathogenesis, help identify new biomarkers and novel treatment targets, aid prognostication and could be central to developing individualized treatment strategies in the future. An inherited component contributes to <3% of gastric cancers; the majority of genetic changes associated with gastric cancer are acquired. Over the past few decades, advances in technology and high-throughput analysis have improved understanding of the molecular aspects of the pathogenesis of gastric cancer. These aspects are multifaceted and heterogeneous and represent a wide spectrum of several key genetic influences, such as chromosomal instability, microsatellite instability, changes in microRNA profile, somatic gene mutations or functional single nucleotide polymorphisms. These genetic aspects of the pathogenesis of gastric cancer will be addressed in this Review.