Heartburn ‘may cause’ mouth cancer

A new study has identified heartburn may almost double the risk of developing mouth cancer.

Researchers discovered that participants with frequent heartburn who were neither heavy smokers nor heavy drinkers had a 78% increased risk of developing mouth cancer. They also discovered taking indigestion tablets had a preventive effect among those who had frequent heartburn. According to the research, those people had a 41% reduced risk of cancer of the throat and vocal cord.

Heartburn is a common digestive problem and can affect people of all ages. In the UK, it is estimated one in five people will experience at least one episode of heartburn a week, and that 1 in 10 people experience symptoms on a daily basis, which could put more than six million people at risk of developing mouth cancer.

Chief executive of the British Dental Health Foundation, Dr Nigel Carter, hopes the research will act as a springboard for greater awareness about mouth cancer, a disease that in 2010 claimed more lives than road traffic accidents.

Dr Carter said: ‘The research could be invaluable in the fight against rising mouth cancer figures. The disease has almost doubled in the last 12 years, and if more research into the potential link between heartburn and mouth cancer can be clarified, it could save thousands of lives.

‘Traditional risk factors for the disease include drinking alcohol to excess and tobacco use, yet the research identified a potential link in those who did neither. Poor diet and the Human Papillomavirus (HPV), often transmitted via oral sex, are other risks for mouth cancer.

‘Given the disease is predicted to rise, there’s still relatively low awareness about it. This is why it is important to take action through campaigns like Mouth Cancer Action Month every November in the UK, raising awareness of the risk factors and what to look out for.’

The study, presented in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers and Prevention, included 631 patients with mouth cancer and 1,234 control subjects.

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