People with chronic stomach acid reflux may have an increased risk of developing cancer of the larynx or “voice box,” a study suggests.
Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) has been considered a possible risk factor for laryngeal cancer, in large part because GERD is common among people with the cancer.
Some studies have linked the acid-reflux condition to laryngeal cancer, but they have suffered from shortcomings in their methodology, according to the authors of the new study.
For their study, reported in the American Journal of Medicine, the researchers compared 96 men and women with laryngeal cancer to a group of adults without the disease who were matched to the patients by age, gender and ethnicity - three important factors in laryngeal cancer risk.
Overall, the study found, people with GERD were twice as likely as those without the condition to develop laryngeal cancer.
The risk was independent of smoking, a well-established risk factor for the cancer; smokers in the study had a six-times greater risk of laryngeal cancer than non-smokers did.
GERD occurs when the muscle at the bottom of the esophagus fails to close properly, allowing stomach acids to leak into the esophagus. The condition is already linked to a disorder called Barrett’s esophagus, which can in turn lead to esophageal cancer.
As for whether GERD is in fact a risk factor for laryngeal cancer, “definitive studies are yet to come,” said Dr. Michael Vaezi, a gastroenterologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville and the study’s lead author.
Still, with the current findings, there is growing evidence that GERD may contribute to the cancer.
Vaezi told Reuters Health that in an earlier study, he and his colleagues found that laryngeal cancer patients who took acid-suppressing medication had lower odds of the cancer coming back - an indication, he noted, that GERD may contribute not only to the initial development of laryngeal cancer but to its recurrence as well.
SOURCE: American Journal of Medicine, September 2006.
Revision date: July 8, 2011
Last revised: by Sebastian Scheller, MD, ScD