Many of us suffer from heartburn from time to time, especially around the holidays and other events where we’ve eaten too much. To treat the discomfort, we may resort to medications such as Nexium, Prilosec or Prevacid. These medicines – called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) – help reduce acid in the stomach.
While it’s fine to use such medications once in a while, long-term, chronic use of PPIs can wreak havoc on the body. Long-term PPI use is already associated with bone fractures, kidney disease, heart attacks and birth defects. Now, studies show that they can also increase the risk of developing gastric cancer.
Results of the Study
The study, which was published online in Gut on October 31, was conducted by the University of Hong Kong. Researchers studied more than 63,000 patients who had been treated for Helicobacter pylori, also known as H. pylori. This bacterium is known for increasing the risk of stomach cancer.
Five percent of these patients were prescribed a PPI and researchers followed up with them for 7.6 years on average. Those who were prescribed PPIs increased their risk of developing gastric cancer by 2.4 times. The longer the patients took the PPIs, the more their risk increased. Those who took a PPI daily for one year saw their risk of gastric cancer increase by five times. After three years of daily use, the risk increased by eight times.
The dosage amount also increased the risk of developing gastric cancer. Those who took a PPI weekly saw their risk increased by 2.4 times over non-users. When the usage was increased to daily, the risk increased by 4.6 times.
What Does This Mean?
This study may be an eye-opener to those who take PPIs on a daily basis, but it’s important to understand that the study does not prove cause and effect. This study was observational only and the results are conflicting anyways.
The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recently published a study on pantoprazole, a drug more commonly known as Protonix. It studied the long-term effects of PPI use and there was no evidence that PPI use caused gastric cancer.
It is believed that geography may have skewed the results of the University of Hong Kong study. Asians generally have a higher risk of gastric cancer anyway, so the increased risk cannot be directly correlated to PPI use.