Frequent heartburn could increase throat cancer risk (and here's how to prevent it)

Chronic heartburn increases the risk of throat and vocal cord cancer, according to a new study. While alcohol and tobacco consumption still remain the topmost popular causes of throat cancer, chronic heartburn may also contribute to a 1.7 percent increased risk of throat and vocal cord cancer, even in individuals who don't smoke or drink.

People suffering from chronic heartburn or GERD-gastro esophageal reflux disease are at much higher risk of suffering from these cancers, which is why; diet does play a huge role in preventing these cancers. Pregnancy, certain foods and alcohol are thought to be the main culprits of heartburn, and avoiding these can go a long way in preventing throat cancer, the study claims.

This study, which took into account 631 patients who had enrolled for a population-based study evaluating the cancer risk, found out that 468 had throat cancer and 163 suffered from vocal cord cancer.

These individuals were then matched to individuals who didn't have cancer and co-incided their age and gender. Questionnaires were filled out by all the study subjects, mostly regarding their family history of cancer, their eating habits and smoking and drinking frequency. They were also further tested for the presence of HPV (human papilloma virus0 which is thought to increase the risk of throat cancer.

"Previous studies examining gastric reflux and cancers of the head and neck have generated mixed results," study author Dr. Scott M. Langevin, a postdoctoral research fellow at Brown University in Providence, R.I., said in a press release. "(Our study) is a large, population-based study with robust parameters that strongly suggests gastric reflux, which causes frequent heartburn, is an independent risk factor for cancers of the pharynx (throat) and larynx (vocal cord)."

Finally, after careful observation, the researchers concluded that people having frequent heartburn had a 78 percent elevated risk of suffering from cancers of the throat and the vocal cord, provided they were not heavy drinkers. Furthermore, it was also revealed that taking antacids as a treatment for frequent heartburn could contribute to lowering the risk, and bring it down to a 41 percent reduced risk of suffering from the disease.

"We have hypothesized that by neutralizing the pH of the stomach acid reaching up into the throat, the antacids prevent chronic irritation and cellular damage that can eventually lead to cancer," Langevin told WebMD U.K. Health News. "However, anything that we offer at this time would be merely speculation."

The study was published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, a journal published by the American Association for Cancer Research, on May 23.

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