Antacids May Extend Some Cancer Patients' Lives

Head and neck cancer patients who took antacids for acid reflux lived longer than those who did not take them

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Antacids may help with more than just heartburn. They could help some cancer patients live longer.

People with cancer of the head or neck who regularly took antacids lived longer than those who didn't take the medications, a new study found.

The authors of this study said patients should talk to a doctor before taking antacids.

“Currently, patients might be on and off of this medication according to their symptoms of acid reflux," said lead study author Silvana Papagerakis, MD, of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, in a press release. "We believe this medication can also be beneficial at stopping cancer progression."

These researchers noticed that some head and neck cancer patients lived longer than others and wondered whether medications patients took could contribute to how long they lived. They decided to look at antacids because about two-thirds of the study patients were taking them to help with acid reflux.

Acid reflux is often a side effect of surgery on the head or neck. It's also a side effect of radiation or chemotherapy, which are common cancer treatments. In acid reflux, food or liquid leaks from the stomach back to the esophagus, which is the tube taking food or liquid from the mouth to the stomach. The gastric acid that comes up from the stomach irritates the esophagus, which can lead to heartburn.

For their study, Dr. Papagerakis and team looked at 596 patients being treated for head and neck cancer between 2003 and 2008. Altogether, 410 of the 596 patients used antacids. Of these, 191 used only proton pump inhibitors after diagnosis, 83 used only histamine 2 blockers and 136 used both.

There are two main types of antacids. Both stop the production of gastric acid, which the body makes naturally to kill bacteria in food. Proton pump inhibitors, such as Prilosec (omeprazole), stop the gastric acid secretion near the end of the food digestion process. Histamine 2 blockers, such as Zantac (ranitidine), stop production of acid earlier in the food digestion process.

These researchers followed up with patients for an average of 55 months.

During that time, patients who took only proton pump inhibitors were 45 percent less likely to die than people who took no antacids. Those who took histamine 2 blockers were 33 percent less likely to die than those that did not take antacids. Dr. Papagerakis and team found that taking both types of antacids together did not seem to help people live longer than simply taking proton pump inhibitors alone.

These researchers said they did not know how antacids might help people live longer, or whether taking them for longer would prove even better. They also did not know whether taking antacids before cancer diagnosis could prevent cancer in the first place. They urged more research to answer these questions.

“What this study makes clear is these medications may be more beneficial to the patients than just controlling side effects,” Dr. Papagerakis said.

This study was published Dec. 2 in Cancer Prevention Research.

The American Cancer Society, National Cancer Institute and University of Michigan funded the study. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.


Review Date: 
December 5, 2014
Last Updated:
December 8, 2014