Infection with Helicobacter pylori is associated with the development of gastric cancer. To study whether the infection with H. pylori strains expressing the vacuolating cytotoxin (VacA) and/or the cytotoxin-associated protein (CagA) is associated with an increased risk of developing gastric adenocarcinoma, sera of 90 patients with gastric cancer and 90 matched controls with cardiovascular diseases were investigated for the presence of antibodies to VacA and CagA by immunoblot. Although no significant difference in the overall H. pylori seropositivity was found between cancer patients and controls, antibodies against VacA or CagA were significantly more frequent in cancer patients than in control subjects. Seventy-five (97.4%) of 77 H. pylori-positive patients in the cancer group, but only 60 (84.5%) of 71 H pylori-positive control patients had antibodies against either VacA or CagA (chi 2 = 6.63; relative risk, 2.00; 95% confidence interval, 1.18-3.39; P = 0.01). The presence of antibodies against VacA or CagA alone was also associated with an increased cancer risk (92.2% vs 80.3%; chi 2 = 5.30; relative risk, 1.74; 95% confidence interval, 1.08-2.78; P = 0.021, for VacA; and 87.0% vs 74.6%; chi 2 = 4.90; relative risk, 1.61; 95% confidence interval, 1.06-2.45; P = 0.037, for CagA). The relative risk for gastric cancer was mainly elevated in patients under 65 years, but not in patients at or over 65 years. There is evidence that infection with VacA- or CagA-producing H. pylori strains increases the risk of developing gastric cancer, especially in younger patients.