A population-based screening for detection of early cancers evaluated the prevalence of precancerous gastric lesions in an area in Shandong province, China, with one of the world's highest rates of stomach cancer. A total of 3433 residents aged 35 to 64 yr received gastroscopical examinations with biopsies taken from standard locations. Chronic atrophic gastritis was nearly universal; less than 2% of the population had biopsies showing entirely normal mucosa or only superficial gastritis. Intestinal metaplasia was the most advanced lesion for 33% and gastric dysplasia for 20%, although the prevalence of each increased significantly with age. Intestinal metaplasia and gastric dysplasia were detected throughout the stomach, but the lesions were more pronounced along the lesser curvature, especially in the angulus and antrum. There was no sex difference in rates of chronic atrophic gastritis, but males had a slightly higher prevalence of intestinal metaplasia, a 1.6-fold increase in dysplasia, and a 3-fold excess of gastric cancer. The data quantify the extensiveness of gastric lesions likely to be involved in the natural history of stomach cancer in this high-risk population.