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This study examines the relationship between Helicobacter pylori infection and peptic ulcer disease and gastric cancer--in particular, the presence or absence of bacteria, the grading of gastritis, and the degree of inflammation in the antral and oxyntic mucosae. The grading of gastritis and the detection of H pylori were determined by histology using the Sydney system. Of the 1006 patients examined, 34.5% had duodenal ulcer disease, 3.5% gastric ulcer disease, and 2% with coexistent ulceration. Most patients (50.2%) were classified as having non-ulcer dyspepsia. Altogether 2.4% of patients had gastric cancer and two further patients had carcinoma in the gastric stump. Of the ulcer disease patients, 87.2% had histological evidence of H pylori infection. After patients who had taken antibiotics or bismuth compounds in the preceding four weeks were excluded, 98.9% of the duodenal ulcer disease, 100% of the gastric ulcer disease, and 100% of the coexistent ulcer disease patients had evidence of H pylori infection. In patients with gastric cancer who had not taken antimicrobial agents in the four weeks before endoscopy, 83.3% had evidence of H pylori infection. Thus, there was a high rate of duodenal ulcer disease and a low rate of gastric ulcer disease in southern China, an area of low gastric cancer mortality. There was a specific topographical relationship between H pylori, the histological response, and gastroduodenal disease. Our data suggest that the status of a nation as either 'developed' or 'developing' can not be used to predict the upper gastrointestinal disease profile of its population.