A series of new studies have found a link between proton pump inhibitor drugs and esophageal cancer.

Legal action may be possible. If you or a loved one were diagnosed with esophageal cancer after taking a PPI drug, contact our PPI injury attorneys now for a free consultation.

A new study from Sweden has provided support for the link between long-term use of proton pump inhibitor drugs and an increased risk for esophageal cancer.

Proton Pump Inhibitor Drugs & Esophageal Cancer – Prilosec, Prevacid, Nexium

Publishing their research in Cancer Epidemiology, a team of Swedish doctors has completed what they call the largest study ever conducted on the association between PPI medications and esophageal cancer.

The group analyzed data from millions of patients in Sweden, including nearly 800,000 people who received PPI drugs as maintenance therapy.

After identifying patients who had been diagnosed with esophageal cancer, this group was then compared to members of the general population and, importantly, patients who were prescribed H2-antagonists.

400% Increased Risk

PPI patients, the authors write, were far more likely to develop esophageal cancer. People who took PPI medications were nearly 4-times more likely to be diagnosed with esophageal cancer. “In conclusion,” the study authors say, “the long term use of PPIs is associated with increased risk esophageal adenocarcinoma in the absence of other risk factors. Long term use of PPIs should be addressed with caution.”

PPI Risks & Product Liability Litigation

Over the last two decades, proton pump inhibitor medications have become the leading choice for numerous gastrointestinal disorders, including gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). Nexium, Prilosec, and Prevacid are today some of the most widely-prescribed drugs in the world, providing millions of patients with short-term relief from medical conditions that have, at their root, the excessive production of stomach acid.

Despite their wide appeal, proton pump inhibitor drugs have been associated with severe risks, especially after long-term use. A growing body of medical evidence suggests that long-term PPI use may increase the risk for osteoporosis, dementia and severe kidney injuries, including chronic kidney disease and end-stage renal disease.

PPI Cancer Lawsuits On Horizon

Hundreds of patients have already filed suit over the risks, accusing the world’s primary proton pump inhibitor manufacturers of concealing medical evidence from the public and medical community. Now, legal experts believe that a new wave of PPI lawsuits could be on the way from esophageal cancer patients.

In fact, at least one PPI lawsuit includes a claim that manufacturers knew about the link between PPIs and cancer, but failed to disclose that information. Specifically, the lawsuit, which is proceeding as part of an MDL in New Jersey, states that “despite their knowledge of the risks of stomach cancer associated with their proton pump inhibitors, Nexium, Nexium 24HR, Prilosec, and Prilosec OTC, defendants took no action to inform Plaintiff or Plaintiff’s physicians of this known risk.”

In Hong Kong, Doctors Find 250% – 800% Increase In Cancer Risks

While the recent Swedish study has renewed interest in the link between PPI medications and esophageal cancer, it’s not the first research to find a significant association. In 2017, a team of doctors in Hong Kong found that patients who underwent PPI therapy to eradicate the bacterial stomach infection H. pylori were nearly 2.5-times more likely to develop esophageal cancer than other patients.

And, in people who took the drugs on a daily basis for long periods of time, the risk skyrocketed to 834%. No increased risk was observed in patients who had been prescribed H2-antagonists, an older type of medication used to control stomach acid production.

Link Between Acid Reflux & Cancer Still Poorly Understood

These results have surprised some in the medical community. In fact, proton pump inhibitors were, in the past, suggested as a protective measure against esophageal cancer.

Barrett’s Esophagus

Alongside chronic discomfort, long-term GERD increases the risk for a condition known as Barrett’s esophagus. Over time, regurgitated stomach acid can actually change the cells that normally line the esophagus.

With repeated exposure to stomach acid, the esophagus lining is damaged, forcing the body to heal itself. In some cases, the body’s attempt to repair the esophagus lining results in the creation of abnormal cells. The abnormal cells characteristic of Barrett’s esophagus more closely resemble cells found in the intestines.

Why Do Esophageal Cells Mutate?

No one understands why the cells change in this way, the Mayo Clinic reports. What we do know, however, is that chronic GERD appears to be the primary risk factor for Barrett’s esophagus and, even more critically, having Barrett’s esophagus makes you more likely to develop esophageal cancer.

It seems natural, then, to hope that controlling the regurgitation of stomach acid could reduce the risk for Barrett’s esophagus and, in turn, for esophageal cancer.

You’ll find this logic outlined by the American Cancer Society, which writes, “treating people with reflux may help prevent Barrett’s esophagus and esophageal cancer,” then goes on to note several proton pump inhibitor drugs, including omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid) and esomeprazole (Nexium).

As PPI Use Grows, So Too Does Cancer

At the same time, researchers have noticed a troubling trend that seems to contradict the story we just presented. Over the past 25 years, according to doctors in Frontiers In Oncology, the rate of esophageal cancer has exploded by around 600%. So has the use of proton pump inhibitor drugs.

At first, that seems counter-intuitive. If we assume that PPI use reduces the risk for Barrett’s esophagus, the primary risk factor for esophageal cancer, we should expect the rate of cancer to drop as proton pump inhibitor use grows. That’s not what we’ve seen in reality. In the real world, both proton pump inhibitor use and esophageal cancer have grown simultaneously.

Rather than minimizing the problem, increased PPI use has been correlated with an increase in the leading risk factor for esophageal cancer. To account for this apparent paradox, a number of researchers have begun to revise their theory of this devastating disease. What if proton pump inhibitors, they suggest, are causingBarrett’s esophagus, not preventing it?

Cancer “May Be Due To PPI Medication,” Researchers Say

The new Swedish study has thrown weight behind this surprising interpretation of the data. We’ve already seen how the researchers found an increase in the risk for esophageal cancer among GERD patients, but the authors also note an increased risk among other PPI patients. Cancer risks, the group writes, “were increased also among individuals without gastro-esophageal reflux disease who used PPIs for indications not associated with an increased risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma.”

That would be a strange result, the researchers argue, if GERD alone is driving the risk for esophageal cancer. More likely, they suggest, is that cancer “association may be due to PPI medication per se, and not related to other factors that predispose to using anti-acidic medications.”

Learn More In A Free Consultation

Were you or a loved one diagnosed with esophageal cancer after taking proton pump inhibitor drugs? The experienced product liability attorneys at Rosen Injury Lawyers want to help.

Our dedicated legal professionals are now investigating potential lawsuits on behalf of cancer patients who were prescribed Nexium, Prilosec, Prevacid, Zegerid, Dexilant or another PPI medication. To learn more about your legal options, contact us today for a free consultation.