Long-Term Use Of Common Heartburn Medications Could Increase The Risk Of Developing Stomach Cancer

A new study reveals that a long-term use of acid reflux and heartburn medications such as the proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) could increase the risk of developing stomach cancer. The risk anywhere could augment from two to eight times.

The findings of the study were published in Gut. The study was led by Dr. Wai Keung Leung, a professor of gastroenterology at the University of Hong Kong. He explained that while PPIs are one of the most commonly used medications for treating reflux disease and dyspepsia, clinicians should exercise caution when prescribing long-term PPIs. This includes patients who have H.pylori, as noted by the Web MD.

Dr. Leung advised the PPI users, especially those with past H.pylori infection to be cautious with the prolonged usage of PPIs. He added that doctors should review the indications and the needs of long-term PPIs in these patients.

PPIs drugs include Prevacid, Prilosec and Nexium. On the other hand, the study could not prove that PPIs could cause stomach cancer, only there are associations that exist. Still, the PPIs are considered safe but must be cautioned for long-term use.

Meanwhile, in the new study, the researchers examined 63,397 people in Hong Kong treated for H.pylori infection. About 3,271 of them took PPIs and the 21,179 took H2-receptor antagonists, which are types of acid-controller like Tagamet, Pepcid, and other brands. They were monitored for an average of 7.6 years.


The results showed that among the 63,397 people, 153 of them have acquired gastric cancer. And those who took the PPIs had more than doubled the risk for cancer compared with those who took H2 blockers, according to New York Times.

Dr. Leung said that even after the eradication of H. pylori, the risks of cancer persists with PPIs. On the other hand, he said that the absolute risk is not high. He further said that he doesn’t want to discourage people from taking these drugs when necessary. This is because many people benefit from these drugs.

Meanwhile, Dr. Sherif Andrawes, the director of the endoscopy at Staten Island University Hospital in New York City, said that many studies exist and treatment is evolving. On the other hand, physicians must tailor treatment on an individual basis.

He further explained that even with this new study, there are medical situations in which PPI therapy is needed and the risk of side effects is lesser than the risk of acquiring bleeding or cancer of another area in the gastrointestinal tract. Moreover, he advised working on lifestyle modification and diet first rather than having PPI therapy.

[Featured Image by Petr Kazilek/Thinkstock]