Acid reflux drugs double risk of stomach cancer, study says

In a study of 63,000 people, those taking PPIs for acid reflux or heartburn were 2.44 times more likely to develop stomach cancer.
By Delila James | Nov 08, 2017
A worrying new study finds that the most widely sold drugs to treat heartburn and acid reflux may more than double the risk of getting stomach cancer.

The study is published in the journal Gut.

The drugs, called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs), are reportedly safe short-term or occasional use.

"Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) are an important treatment of Helicobacter pylori infection and have good safety records for short-term use," says co-author Ian Wong at University College London, in a report by Science Alert. "However, unnecessary long-term use should be avoided."

In the study of 63,000 individuals, 153 developed stomach cancer. People taking PPIs were 2.44 times more likely to develop cancer than those taking alternative drugs. Those who took PPIs on a daily basis were at an eight times greater risk of getting cancer.

"Interestingly, the authors found no such correlation between gastric cancer risk and long-term treatment with other anti-suppressive drugs suggesting that acid-suppression is not the sole factor," commented gastrointestinal infection researcher Richard Ferraro, from the Hudson Institute of Medical Research in Australia, in the Science Alert report. "The work has important clinical implications as PPIs, which are among the top 10 selling generic drugs in the U.S., are commonly prescribed to treat heartburn."

While an increased risk of nearly 250 percent sounds alarming and is no doubt medically significant the authors point out that the overall risk is still low. Long-term use of PPIs was associated with only about four additional cases of stomach cancer per 10,000 people per year.

"The most plausible explanation for the totality of evidence on this is that those who are given PPIs, and especially those who continue on them long-term, tend to be sicker in a variety of ways than those for whom they are not prescribed," said pharmacoepidemiologist Stephen Evan at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, who did not take part in the research.

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