Lichtenfeld said the role of antacids in reducing the risk of cancer needs more study. "Researchers need to determine why antacids work and, more importantly, whether antacids make a difference in also reducing cancer of the esophagus," he said.
Why other medications didn't lower the risk isn't clear, Lichtenfeld said. And it points to one limitation of this type of study: It can't take into account all the variables.
To come to their conclusions, Langevin's group compared more than 600 patients with throat or vocal cord cancer with more than 1,300 people without a history of cancer. All the patients answered questions about their history of heartburn, smoking and drinking habits, and family history of cancer.
In addition, since some head and neck cancers are caused by the human papillomavirus (HPV), the researchers tested all the participants for antigens to the virus.
The researchers found that among those who weren't heavy smokers or drinkers, frequent heartburn increased the risk for cancers of the throat and vocal cords by 78 percent.
The researchers also found that taking antacids -- but not prescription medications or home remedies -- reduced the risk for these cancers by 41 percent. The protective effect of antacids was independent of smoking, drinking or infection with HPV, they said.
For more information on throat cancer, visit the American Cancer Society.
SOURCES: Scott Langevin, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow, Brown University, Providence, R.I.; Len Lichtenfeld, M.D., deputy chief medical officer, American Cancer Society, Atlanta; May 23, 2013, Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention
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