Antacids Linked to Better Survival in Patients With Head and Neck Cancer

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Patients with head and neck cancer who used antacid medicines to control acid reflux had better overall survival, according to a study from the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center. Results of the study were published in Cancer Prevention Research.1

Reflux can be a common side effect of chemotherapy or radiation treatment for head and neck cancer. Doctors at the University of Michigan frequently prescribe two types of antacids, namely proton pump inhibitors or histamine 2 blockers, to help treat this side effect.

Study Details

The researchers looked at 596 patients who were treated for head and neck cancer. More than two-thirds of the patients took one or both types of antacid medication after their diagnosis. Patients who were taking antacids had significantly better overall survival than those who did not take them. Proton pump inhibitors (eg, omeprazole, esomeprazole, lansoprazole) had the biggest effect, showing a 45% decreased risk of death, compared to patients who did not take antacids. Patients taking histamine 2 blockers (eg, cimetidine, ranitidine, famotidine) had a 33% decreased risk of death.

“We had suspicions that these medications somehow had a favorable impact on patient outcomes. 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,” said lead study author Silvana Papagerakis, MD, PhD, Research Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology—Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School and an Adjunct Clinical Assistant Professor at the University of Michigan School of Dentistry.

Next Steps

The researchers are not clear why these medications affect the cancer, although they have begun additional work to understand the mechanisms involved.

“What this study makes clear is these medications may be more beneficial to the patients than just controlling side effects,” she said, adding that more studies are needed before antacids can be recommended for all patients with head and neck cancer. ■

Disclosure: Dr. Papagerakis reported no potential conflicts of interest.


1. Papagerakis S, et al: Cancer Prev Res 7:1258-1269, 2014.