A study published in the medical journal Gut has found a doubled increased risk of stomach cancer among people who are on long-term treatment with heartburn medications in the Proton Pump Inhibitor (PPI) class, which includes popular antacids like Prilosec and Nexium.
The overall risk is small — less than 1% of people in the study were diagnosed with stomach cancer over 7 years.
Furthermore, the risk of cancer only applies to people who were using PPIs to reduce the amount of stomach acid as a treatment for infections with Helicobacter pylori, a bacteria associated with ulcers.
The bacteria responsible for stomach ulcers increases the risk of stomach cancer on its own, according to the researchers. The study suggests that PPIs may increase the risk of cancer even further.
Dr. Yelena Janjigian, a gastric cancer specialist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center told Newsweek:
Ultimately, the risk of gastric cancer is quite low, but overall, the field is moving toward being cautious with these agents. Even before this paper came out, the general trend has been to take people off the therapy.”
PPIs have been linked to a surprising number of side effects in recent years. The FDA recently ordered drug-makers to strengthen warnings about kidney inflammation (“interstitial nephritis”). Studies have also linked PPIs with acute kidney injury and chronic kidney disease.
In addition to kidney side effects, PPIs are also linked to higher rates of bone fractures — especially in the hip, wrist, and spine.
The FDA has also warned that patients may develop Vitamin B12 deficiencies, low magnesium levels, chronic diarrhea from C. difficile infections, muscle spasms, irregular heartbeat, and seizures.