PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – Certain medications to ease heartburn caused by acid reflux – also known as GERD – may be doing more harm than good, according to a new study.

It appears that there’s been a major increase in cancer of the esophagus ever since the anti-acid drugs became available.

You probably can’t watch television without seeing commercials for Prilosec, Nexium, and Prevacid.

They are known as proton pump inhibitors or PPIs and they are designed to reduce stomach acid and control acid reflux.

“One thing, their drugs are very, very good at what they do,” Dr. Blair Jobe said.

Dr. Jobe and his researchers at Pitt’s Medical School found that the medications might actually be masking symptoms. If serious symptoms are not there to alert patients and their doctors, it may hide developing pre-malignant or lethal cancerous conditions.

“We may need to screen people who are well-controlled,” Dr. Jobe said.

However, Dr. Jobe believes many patients who are at high risk for esophageal cancer are not being screened. Primarily, that group consists of white males, age 50 or over, with a hiatal hernia, and long term use of PPIs.

“We only detect 5 percent of the total population that develops cancer. That means that 95 percent haven’t been screened,” Dr. Jobe said.

The best screening tool is endoscopy and the newest technique using a thin nasal tube is less expensive, less invasive, and only takes a few minutes in a doctor’s office.

More research needs to be done, but long-term chronic use of PPIs should at least raise a red flag.

“If you’re [using them for] a number of years and have good symptom control, you should probably at some point have a screening endoscopy – at least one,” Dr. Jobe said.

If you’ve been taking these medications and have some concerns, Dr. Jobe said there is no need to panic.

All you need to do is check with your doctor and see if you may be a candidate for a screening endoscopy.


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