Public Release:  Frequent heartburn may predict cancers of the throat and vocal cord

American Association for Cancer Research

PHILADELPHIA -- Frequent heartburn was positively associated with cancers of the throat and vocal cord among nonsmokers and nondrinkers, and the use of antacids, but not prescription medications, had a protective effect, according to data published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research.

"Previous studies examining gastric reflux and cancers of the head and neck have generated mixed results," said Scott M. Langevin, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow at Brown University in Providence, R.I. "Most of those studies had either few numbers of cases or they were not adjusted for confounding factors. Ours is a large, population-based study with robust parameters that strongly suggests gastric reflux, which causes frequent heartburn, is an independent risk factor for cancers of the pharynx (throat) and larynx (vocal cord)."

Langevin and his colleagues identified 631 patients from a large group of individuals enrolled in a population-based, case-control study in the greater Boston area. Of the 631 participants, 468 had throat cancer and 163 had cancers of the vocal cord. An additional 1,234 individuals matched for age and gender with no prior history of cancer were recruited using town records to serve as controls for the study.

All participants completed a questionnaire on their history of heartburn, smoking and drinking habits, family history of cancer and sociodemographic information. Because some head and neck cancers are caused by infection with human papillomavirus 16 (HPV 16), the researchers tested for the presence of antigens to HPV 16 viral proteins in the blood of all participants.

Langevin and his colleagues found that among participants who were neither heavy smokers nor heavy drinkers, a history of frequent heartburn was linked to a 78 percent increased risk for cancers of the throat and vocal cord. They also found that among those who had frequent heartburn, taking antacids, but not prescription medications or home remedies, had a protective effect, with a 41 percent reduced risk for cancers of the throat and vocal cord. The protective effect of antacids was consistent, irrespective of the participants' smoking or drinking status, HPV 16 status or tumor site.

"Additional studies are needed to validate the chemopreventive effects of antacids among patients with frequent heartburn," said Langevin. "The identification of gastric reflux as a risk factor for throat and vocal cord cancers, however, may have implications in terms of risk stratification and identification of high-risk patients."

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About the American Association for Cancer Research

Founded in 1907, the American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) is the world's first and largest professional organization dedicated to advancing cancer research and its mission to prevent and cure cancer. AACR membership includes more than 34,000 laboratory, translational and clinical researchers; population scientists; other health care professionals; and cancer advocates residing in more than 90 countries. The AACR marshals the full spectrum of expertise of the cancer community to accelerate progress in the prevention, biology, diagnosis and treatment of cancer by annually convening more than 20 conferences and educational workshops, the largest of which is the AACR Annual Meeting with more than 18,000 attendees. In addition, the AACR publishes eight peer-reviewed scientific journals and a magazine for cancer survivors, patients and their caregivers. The AACR funds meritorious research directly as well as in cooperation with numerous cancer organizations. As the scientific partner of Stand Up To Cancer, the AACR provides expert peer review, grants administration and scientific oversight of team science and individual grants in cancer research that have the potential for near-term patient benefit. The AACR actively communicates with legislators and policymakers about the value of cancer research and related biomedical science in saving lives from cancer. For more information about the AACR, visit http://www.AACR.org.

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