Head and neck cancer patients who used medication to control acid reflux experienced better overall survival compared to those patients who did not. This is according to a recent study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center.
As many of you know, head and neck cancer patients experience a host of treatment-related side effects, one of them being acid reflux. Proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) or histamine 2 (H2) blockers are frequently prescribed to help prevent or treat this side effect. These kinds of drugs help to minimize acid reflux, and researchers have discovered its positive effects on cancer, as well.
"We had suspicions that these medications somehow had a favorable impact on patient outcomes," said lead study author Silvana M. Papagerakis, MS, MD, PhD, research assistant professor in the university's Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery and director of the Oral, Head, and Neck Cancer Invasion and Metastasis Laboratory. "This led us to review our large cohort of patients and screen them for common medications, focusing on antacids. In fact, our study did show that people taking antacids are doing better."
Papagerakis and colleagues analyzed 596 patients treated for head and neck cancer. Data showed that more than two-thirds of the patients took one or both types of antacid medication (PPIs and H2 blockers) after initial diagnosis. Patients who were taking PPI drugs, such as omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), and esomeprazole (Nexium), had a 45% decreased risk of death compared to those patients who did not take acid blockers. Patients taking H2 blockers, such as cimetidine (Tagamet), famotidine (Pepcid), and ranitidine (Zantac), had a 33% risk reduction.
The mechanism of action of these drugs in terms of slowing cancer progression is not clearly understood, but additional research is currently under way -- including studying the use of antacids as a preventative for people with reflux disease or precancerous lesions who may be at a higher risk of getting head and neck cancer.
"What this study makes clear is these medications may be more beneficial to the patients than just controlling side effects," said Papagerakis.