A recently-published study has uncovered yet another dangerous side effect potentially associated with Nexium and other proton pump inhibitors: an increased risk of stomach cancer.
Writing in the medical journal Gut, researchers at the University of Hong Kong noted that a previous study did point to a possible association between proton pump inhibitors and a heightened risk of stomach cancer. However, it was not able to account for the role H. pylori may have played in those cases, thus undermining the findings.
H. pylori is a bacterium commonly found in humans that colonizes the gut. It causes the majority of gastric ulcers and is a known risk factor for stomach cancer. However, many patients still develop cancer even after H. pylori has been eradicated.
To find out why, the authors of this latest study followed 63,400 patients who had undergone triple therapy with a combination of a proton pump inhibitor and two antibiotics to kill the H. pylori bacteria. The treatment was given over seven days between 2003 and 2012.
Subjects were monitored until they developed cancer, died, or the study ended (December 2015), whichever came first. The average time of follow-up was 7.5 years.
During this time, 3,271 (5%) people took proton pump inhibitors for an average of nearly three years. More than 21,700 took another class of heartburn drugs called H2 blockers.
During follow-up, 153 patients developed stomach cancer following triple therapy. None tested positive for H. pylori, but they all had chronic gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining).
Using a proton pump inhibitor was linked to twice the risk of developing stomach cancer. Those who took the drugs daily had more than four times the risk compared to those who only used proton pump inhibitors once per week.
The risk also increased the longer proton pump inhibitors were used. Those who took the drugs for a year had more than five times the risk. Taking proton pump inhibitors for two years or more increased the risk more than six-fold, while the likelihood for cancer rose more than eight times after three or more years of use.
H2 blockers were not associated with any increased risk.
“Many investigators also tend to believe that eradication of H. pylori could reduce the cancer risk despite the continuous use of PPIs,” the study’s lead author told Medical News Today. “This finding provides strong evidence to suggest that the long-term use of PPIs still increase the risk of gastric cancer after H. pylori eradication.”
Proton pump inhibitors, including Nexium, Prilosec, PrevAcid, Dexilant, and Protonix, are indicated for the short-term treatment of GERD and other gastric disorders related to the excess production of stomach acid. While more than 15 million Americans used prescription proton pump inhibitors in 2013, it has been estimated that between 25% and 70% of these prescriptions have no appropriate indication.
Because of their immense popularity, few people give any thought to the side effects potentially associated with Nexium or other drugs in this class. However, several recent studies have linked extended proton pump inhibitor use to serious kidney ailments, while other research has suggested they might put patients at risk for heart attacks, bone fractures, dementia, stomach infections, and pneumonia.
Hundreds of plaintiffs have filed Nexium lawsuits and other proton pump inhibitor claims after developing life-threatening kidney problems allegedly associated with their long-term use. These lawsuits accuse the drug companies of concealing information linking their products to kidney failure, chronic kidney disease, acute interstitial nephritis, and acute kidney injury.
Plaintiffs further assert that their injuries could have been avoided had they had been adequately warned of the risks potentially associates with long-term proton pump inhibitor treatment.