PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – The FDA is considering a petition calling for cancer warning labels on popular over-the-counter antacids that treat heartburn.
Throat cancer is skyrocketing and many doctors blame the medications.
Joe Moore likes making old things new, but the retired engineer almost didn’t get to see his Camaro fully restored.
“I started arranging my stuff to die,” said Moore.
When Moore was diagnosed with esophageal cancer, it was advanced. The main symptom was heartburn that had been controlled with antacids that Moore took for 30 years.
“It started when I was about 16, ran in the family,” he said.
Fifteen million Americans experience heartburn every day. It’s caused by stomach acid backing up into the esophagus. It’s usually not serious, except when there’s a cancer connection.
“It’s a big problem and it’s only going to get worse,” said Dr. Anthony Infantolino said.
Infantolino said most people don’t know the connection between heartburn and esophageal cancer, and because antacids usually work so well, they can mask the main symptom.
“Taking these things and feeling better does not decrease your risk for esophageal cancer,” said Infantolino.
“We found out the hard way and we don’t want that to happen to other families,” said Mindy Mordecai.
Monte Mordecai died from esophageal cancer, after years of taking antacids for heartburn.
“I don’t really have the words to tell you want that was like. My husband was an amazing father, amazing husband,” she said.
Mindy Mordecai started the Esophageal Cancer Action Network to raise awareness. ECAN has filed a petition with the FDA calling for new labels on heartburn drugs warning people about the risk.
“We believe that the warning labels on those medications need to say something more than heartburn could cause a serious condition,” said Mordecai.
“The labeling has to be clear that acid reflux, heartburn is a risk factor for esophageal cancer,” said Infantolino.
A statement from Consumer Healthcare Products Association that represents drug makers says in part: “Evidence from decades of real-world use, current medical literature, and professional guidelines assures patients and physicians that they can have the utmost confidence in the current labeling.”
For Moore, who says he’s lucky to be alive and able to eat, he thinks there should be better warnings.
“If I would’ve known about that back then, I would’ve got scoped and this would’ve never occurred,” he said. “It’s great to be here.”
People who have chronic heartburn are advised to get a one-time endoscopic procedure to evaluate their risk for cancer.