People who suffer from frequent heartburn may be at increased risk for throat and vocal cord cancers, even if they do not smoke or drink alcohol, a new study says.
Interestingly, common over-the-counter heartburn medications (antacids) seemed to protect throat cancer, while prescription drugs such as Prilosec, Nexium and Prevacid do not, the researchers said.
"There has been controversy about whether acidity contributes to cancers of the larynx or pharynx ", said the lead researcher, Scott Langevin, postdoctoral fellow at Brown University in Providence , Rhode Island
"And we find that it does raise the risk of these cancers. There is an increase of about 78% in the risk of throat cancer in people who experience strong heartburn, "he said," This is important to determine who needs to be monitored more closely. "
The other finding, which Langevin described as "surprising", was the protective effect of common antacids in reducing the risk of Cancer .
"We did not observe that protective effect with prescription drugs, but it should be noted that the people who take them are those who have the worst acidity, so we should not interpret it excessively," he said.
Langevin added that the finding about the drugs is difficult to explain, and further studies will be needed to see if it really is. "It's possible that these drugs did not have that protective effect because those were the worst cases of heartburn," he said.
The report appears in the May 23 issue of the magazine Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. And although he discovered an association between heartburn and cancer of the throat and vocal cords , did not prove causality.
The doctor. Len Lichtenfeld, deputy medical director of the American Cancer Society , said that "the study shows that the Reflux is associated with a higher incidence of Cancers of the larynx and pharynx ".
Lichtenfeld noted that the role of antacids in reducing the risk of Cancer merits more studies. "Researchers must determine why antacids work, and more importantly, whether antacids also make a difference in reducing the esophageal cancers ", he pointed.
Lichtenfeld said it is not clear why other medications did not reduce the risk. And it points to a limitation of this type of study: it can not take into account all the variables.
To arrive at their conclusions, the Langevin group compared more than 600 patients from throat cancer or vocal cords with more than 1,300 people without a history. All patients answered questions about their history of heartburn, smoking and habits of alcohol intake, and family history of Cancer .
Also, given that some cancers of the head and neck are caused by the human papilloma virus (HPV), the researchers evaluated all participants for antigens to the virus.
Researchers found that among those who were not smokers or heavy drinkers, frequent heartburn increased the risk of Cancers of the throat and vocal cords in 78%.
The researchers also found that taking antacids (but not prescription drugs or home remedies) reduced the risk of those cancers by 41%. The protective effect of antacids was independent of smoking , alcohol intake or infection with HPV, they pointed.
For more information about throat cancer, visit the American Cancer Society .