Can Acid Reflux or Barrett's Esophagus Increase Your Risk of Head and Neck Cancer?

by Jennifer Mitchell Wilson B.S. Dietetics, Dietitian, Health Professional

People with acid reflux disease or Barrett’s esophagus are often concerned about the odds that they will end up with cancer due to their disease. Most research has indicated very little risk for the development of cancer, but a study published in February 2018 in JAMA Otolaryngol Head Neck Surgery found that there may be a correlation after all. The study's findings indicate that acid reflux disease is associated with cancer of the throat, tonsils, and parts of the sinuses.

The study used the Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare database to look at almost 15,000 adults over the age of 66 years old. People diagnosed with malignancy of the larynx, hypopharynx, oropharynx, tonsil, nasopharynx, and paranasal sinuses were compared with cancer-free control subjects and acid reflux was examined as an exposure risk. While further research is needed to determine whether other factors like smoking or alcohol consumption may have also played a role, it is an important step in establishing a possible link between acid reflux and cancer risk.

What does this mean for those patients who already have acid reflux disease or Barrett’s esophagus? It means remaining vigilant in taking care of your health. That means discussing medications with your physician, taking them as prescribed, and keeping check-ups even when you feel well. Avoid any food triggers and eliminate behaviors that can increase your risk for acid reflux disease, Barrett’s, or cancer in general. Quit smoking, limit alcohol consumption, eat a healthy diet risk in fruits and vegetables, and maintain a healthy weight.

This shouldn’t cause people with reflux or Barrett’s to freak out or change medications on their own, but it should establish the importance of treating acid reflux effectively and having an open dialogue with your physician about risk factors for cancer.

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson
Meet Our Writer
Jennifer Mitchell Wilson

Jennifer Mitchell Wilson is a dietitian and mother of three girls. Two of her children have dealt with acid reflux disease, food allergies, migraines, and asthma. She has a Bachelor of Science in dietetics from Harding University and has done graduate work in public health and nutrition through Eastern Kentucky University. In addition to writing for HealthCentral, she does patient consults and serves on the Board of Directors for the Pediatric Adolescent Gastroesophageal Reflux Association.