Acid reflux raises the risk of cancer of the throat, tonsils and sinuses in older people, study finds

Acid reflux raises the risk of cancer of the throat, tonsils and sinuses in older people, a study has found.

The condition was linked to a 2 to 3 percent greater chance of developing these potentially deadly diseases.


Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) occurs when stomach acid frequently flows back into the esophagus, the tube connecting your mouth and stomach.

And worryingly, taking remedies for acid reflux may further increase your risk of cancer. Research published last month revealed regularly taking heartburn pills could double your chances of getting stomach tumors.

The researchers of the current study argue the results suggest elderly people suffering with the condition should be carefully screened for head and neck cancers.

'GERD is associated with the development of malignancy of the upper aerodigestive tract in an elderly population in the United States,' wrote the study authors from Tulane University School of Medicine, New Orleans.

'The increased relative risk for [throat and head] cancers in this population suggests an opportunity for earlier detection and intervention.'Cancers of the respiratory and upper digestive tracts account for more than 360,000 deaths worldwide each year. GERD is thought to affect 10 to 30 percent of the population, more frequently in patients who are obese and elderly.

Many people experience acid reflux from time to time. GERD is classified as mild when it occurs at least twice a week, or moderate to severe when it happens at least once a week. 

How the research was carried out 

The team analyzed data from 13,805 patients who were 66 or older with cancer of the respiratory and upper digestive tracts and 13,805 patients without cancer as a control.

They found the strongest association between GERD and cancer was seen in the larynx (voice box) form of the disease.

The authors wrote: 'This intuitively makes sense owing to the proximity to the esophagus and the readily exposed mucosa that lines the larynx, resulting in reflux-related tissue injury, mucosal inflammation, and chronic laryngitis.' 

The researchers admit a imitation of their is that it did not take into account patients' tobacco and alcohol exposure, which are well-known risk factors for head and neck cancers.

They also said future studies are necessary to confirm the link and to explore if there's an association with younger people.

The research was published in the journal JAMA Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery.