Heartburn increases risk for throat cancer

Gastric reflux increases the risk for laryngopharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (LPSCC), but antacids may provide protection, according to a new study in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention (May 23, 2013).

U.S. researchers studied the incidence of gastric reflux and medication use in 631 Boston-area patients with LPSCC who were not heavy smokers or drinkers, matching them with 1,234 healthy controls.

After controlling for age, sex, race, smoking history, alcohol consumption, human papillomavirus (HPV) 16 infection, education, and body mass index, they found that people who had reported a history of frequent heartburn were 78% more likely to have cancer than those who did not. Those with frequent gastric reflux who took antacids reduced their risk for cancer by 41%, compared with those whose heartburn was untreated, according to lead author Scott Langevin, PhD, from Brown University, and colleagues.

There was no reduced risk among those taking proton pump inhibitors (e.g., Prilosec) or histamine H2 receptor antagonists (e.g., Zantac), but this may be because people taking such drugs are likely to have the most severe cases of acid reflux, and not because those drugs are ineffective, the researchers noted.

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