Chronic users of Nexium and other proton pump inhibitors may face a higher risk of cancer, according to findings recently published by a team of Swedish researchers.
Proton pump inhibitors, including prescription and over-the-counter versions of Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid, are used by millions of people throughout the world to treat heart burn symptoms associated with GERD and other stomach disorders. They may also be taken for extended periods to prevent damage to the stomach mucosa among patients using aspirin or anti-inflammatory drugs
Acid reflux is a major risk factor for esophageal adenocarcinoma. Theoretically, therefore, long-term proton pump inhibitor use should reduce the risk for this type of cancer. However, recent studies have suggested that these drugs also change the composition of gut bacteria, which may eliminate certain healthy microbes, including some that may protect against cancer.
Researchers at the Centre for Translational Microbiome Research at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm recently analyzed large population-based data sets in Sweden to investigate the frequency of esophageal adenocarcinoma among chronic proton pump inhibitor users. To do so, they compared the cancer risk among all adults who used the drugs for at least 6 months between from 2005 and 2012 with the cancer risk among the entire Swedish population.
“For people with reflux, we expected a higher risk of esophageal cancer, since even with treatment, the risk of cancer will probably remain higher than someone who never had reflux,” the study’s lead author, Nele Brusselaers, recently wrote in an article published by Science Trends. “Yet, our findings also suggested that the risk of these cancer types may be higher among those using PPIs to protect their stomach and had no reported stomach problems. The risk seemed to be highest among young individuals (< 40 years), but we need to note that gastric and esophageal cancer are anyway rare at that age.”
Writing in the April issue of Cancer Epidemiology, the study authors concluded that chronic proton pump inhibitor use is associated with a heightened risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma and cautioned that long-term use of the drugs “should be addressed with caution.”
This is just the most recent study to suggest that chronic proton pump inhibitor use may be associated with serious adverse health effects. Previous research has also linked extended treatment to a higher risk of certain bone fractures, heart attacks, dementia, B12 deficiency, low magnesium levels, kidney damage, C. diff infections and pneumonia.
Other studies have suggested that long-term proton pump inhibitor users may be more likely to develop kidney failure and other serious renal complications.
In fact, thousands of people are currently pursuing lawsuits against the makers Nexium, Prilosec, PrevAcid, Dexilant, and Protonix, for kidney complications they claim were caused by proton pump inhibitors. Among other things, plaintiffs claim that defendants have long known that extended use of the drugs could harm the kidneys yet concealed this information from the public and failed to provide adequate safety warnings to doctors and patients.