Frequent Heartburn Associated with Increased Risk of Throat and Vocal Cord Cancer

First Posted: May 24, 2013 06:31 AM EDT

Heartburn has nothing to do with the heart, it is a digestive problem. It is temporary and resolves on its own but at times heartburn is a precursor to more serious diseases or health risks.   A new finding states that frequent heartburn is associated with elevated risk of throat and vocal cord cancer among non-smokers and non-drinkers, according to a press release.

The study published in the journal of American Association for Cancer Research states that the use of antacids helps in reducing the risk.

"Previous studies examining gastric reflux and cancers of the head and neck have generated mixed results," Scott M. Langevin, Ph.D., postdoctoral research fellow at Brown University in Providence, R.I said in the press statement. "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)." 

The researchers examined 631 individuals from greater Boston area who were a part of population-based, case-control study. Among the participants, nearly 468 had throat cancer and the remaining 168 had vocal cord cancer. They had a control group of 1,234 participants, who didn't have a prior history of cancer.

The participants were asked to complete a questionnaire that focused on the history of heartburn, drinking-smoking habits, family history of cancer and other socio-demographic details.  The researchers also tested the participant's blood for the presence of human papillomavirus 16 (HPV 16) viral protein as head and neck cancers are caused by HPV16 infection.

The researchers noticed that among the participants, who were not heavy smokers or drinkers, the history of frequent heartburn was tied to 78 percent of elevated risk of throat and vocal cord cancer.

They also discovered that in people with frequent heartburn, taking antacids but not home remedies or prescription medicines, the risk of throat and vocal cod cancer dropped by 41 percent.  The effect of antacid was consistent irrespective of person's smoking and drinking habit.

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