Medicine

Tummy Copy

Newsweek International - - CONTENTS - BY KATE SHERI­DAN @sheri­dan_kate

in the gut to go along with that heart­burn medicine? A new study in Gut, pub­lished in late Oc­to­ber, sug­gests that some of the top-sell­ing drugs in the world may dou­ble the risk of stom­ach can­cer. The risk was linked to long-term use of pro­ton pump in­hibitors, a class of drugs that in­cludes Prilosec and Nex­ium, typ­i­cally used for heart­burn and re­lated di­ges­tive­track dis­com­fort.

Note that the over­all chances of de­vel­op­ing can­cer are very small—less than 1 per­cent of the peo­ple stud­ied were di­ag­nosed with this kind of can­cer over seven years, and stom­ach can­cer ac­counts for only 1.7 per­cent of all can­cers di­ag­nosed in the U.S. ev­ery year. And the pool of peo­ple at risk shrinks even smaller when you con­sider that the study looked only at peo­ple who had been treated for an in­fec­tion linked with ul­cers. The bac­terium re­spon­si­ble for this in­fec­tion, Heli­cobac­ter

py­lori, is also as­so­ci­ated with an in­creased risk of stom­ach can­cer.

That said, how­ever, the in­creased rel­a­tive risk is alarm­ingly high. Peo­ple who used the med­i­ca­tions for more than three years may have in­creased their risk of de­vel­op­ing stom­ach can­cer eight­fold. “Ul­ti­mately, the risk of gas­tric can­cer is quite low, but over­all, the field is mov­ing to­ward be­ing cau­tious with th­ese agents,” Dr. Ye­lena Jan­ji­gian, a gas­tric can­cer spe­cial­ist at Me­mo­rial Sloan Ket­ter­ing Can­cer Cen­ter, tells

Newsweek. “Even be­fore this pa­per came out, the gen­eral trend has been to take peo­ple off the ther­apy.”

She notes that the type of stom­ach tu­mors in this study isn’t seen as com­monly in West­ern coun­tries as they are in Asia, where this study was done.

For a con­trol group in this study, re­searchers used med­i­ca­tions that treat heart­burn in a dif­fer­ent way, in­clud­ing Zan­tac and Pep­cid AC, to en­sure it was re­ally the pro­ton pump in­hibitors be­hind the ef­fect ob­served and not some­thing else.

Med­i­ca­tions such as Zan­tac and pro­ton pump in­hibitors work by de­creas­ing the acid that the stom­ach lin­ing makes. Zan­tac blocks a chem­i­cal called his­tamine that can ac­ti­vate cer­tain pumps that need to be trig­gered for the stom­ach to pro­duce acid. Med­i­ca­tions like Prilosec and Nex­ium block those pumps di­rectly.

“Even be­fore this pa­per came out, the gen­eral trend has been to take peo­ple off this ther­apy.”

Nex­ium is one of the best-sell­ing drugs for As­trazeneca. In 2016, it brought in over $2 bil­lion in rev­enue, ac­cord­ing to the com­pany’s re­cent an­nual re­port. “We are con­fi­dent in the safety and ef­fi­cacy of Nex­ium and Prilosec when used in ac­cor­dance with the Fda-ap­proved la­bel, which has been es­tab­lished through nu­mer­ous clin­i­cal tri­als,” says As­trazeneca spokes­woman Michele Meix­ell.

PUR­PLE PROS Pro­ton pump in­hibitors like Nex­ium and Prilosec bring re­lief by block­ing the pumps that pro­duce acid in the stom­ach.

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