A cancer group asked makers of heartburn drugs such as Nexium and Prilosec to include a safety warning that long-term acid-reflux may lead to the development of esophageal cancer.. According to reports, esophageal cancer rates have increased 600 percent over the last 20 years, coinciding with use of antacid medications.

While heartburn medications have not been linked to an increase in the risk for cancer, the cancer group argues that these medications mask the symptoms, causing people to dismiss the damage that is happening within their stomachs.

The Esophageal Cancer Action Network (ECAN), a national nonprofit organization, filed a citizen petition in May with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration asking the agency to require over-the-counter antacid medications to include a warning about a link between long-term acid reflux and esophageal cancer.

“The warnings should include a stronger, bold and prominent statement that persistent heartburn can be a sign of increased risk of esophageal cancer and explain that drug products do not eliminate that risk,” the petition states.

The drug labels currently warn against long-term use of heartburn medications, but do not say why. They also encourage users to speak to their doctors before use, but ECAN members argue this isn’t good enough.

It is important to note that there has not been a direct link between heartburn medications such as Nexium and Prilosec and an increased risk for esophageal cancer. ECAN is simply arguing that the medications should warn patients of the long-term side effects of acid reflux because the symptoms are not actually being treated by the drugs but are simply being masked.

Nexium and Prilosec are both made by AstraZeneca. Generic versions are made by other drug companies.

AstraZeneca has been under public scrutiny lately over allegations that it wrongfully enticed consumers to pay top dollar for Nexium once its patent ran up for Prilosec. According to reports, Nexium is essentially the same thing as Prilosec, only patients are getting twice the amount in one dose of Nexium as they are in Prilosec.

Allegations accuse the company of tricking consumers into spending much more money for brand name Nexium when they could have received the same relief by doubling up on generic versions of Prilosec.

Tricare removed Nexium from its preferred drug list last month, saving millions in healthcare spending. According to a statement issued by Tricare, its main goal is to provide its patients with the highest quality care at the lowest cost to them and the government. Tricare is now offering three cheaper alternatives in the place of Nexium. Only patients whose doctor’s filled out a special authorization form will continue receiving Nexium.

Symptoms of Esophageal Cancer

Symptoms of esophageal cancer are similar to those of acid reflux, which is why cancer groups are requesting that more people are made aware of the cancer risk.

Symptoms include:

  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Reflux symptoms
  • Burning sensation/pain in the throat and/or chest
  • Heartburn
  • Hiccups
  • Cough
  • Vomiting
  • Choking when trying to eat
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Fatigue

Nexium and Prilosec are used for the treatment of gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD), which is actually a risk factor for the development of esophageal cancer. In cases of GERD, reflux occurs when stomach acid leaks into the esophagus causing inflammation and symptoms such as heartburn, chest pain and sore throat.

Chronic GERD can result in a precancerous condition known as Barret’s esophagus. This condition develops when stomach acid eats away at the lining of the esophagus.

History of GERD Medication Side Effects

For the purpose of this article, we will discuss the side effects associated with Nexium, brand name for esomeprazole), a drug approved for the treatment of GERD. It is also used to reduce the risk of gastric ulcers.

Nexium belongs to a class of medications called proton pump inhibitors (PPIs) designed to block the production of stomach acid. Other drugs in its class include omeprazole (Prilosec), lansoprazole (Prevacid), rabeprazole (Aciphex), and pantoprazole (Protonix).

As with all medications, Nexium has been linked to an increase in the risk of a range of side effects. Some of the more common, less serious side effects include:

  • Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea
  • Headaches
  • Muscle pain
  • Dizziness
  • Rash
  • Abnormal heartbeat

Nexium and other drugs in its class have also been linked to an increase in the risk of more serious side effects, including:

  • Chronic kidney disease which occurs when the kidneys can no longer filter blood properly
  • Kidney failure and inflammatory kidney disease
  • Bone fractures caused by the drug’s interruption with the body’s ability to absorb calcium
  • Dementia in older patients with long-term history of Nexium use

Lawsuits for Nexium Side Effects

Lawsuits may be filed on behalf of persons suffering from serious side effects after taking Nexium and other heartburn medications. Anyone who has developed chronic kidney disease or another related side effect and who has a history of using Nexium or another PPI may be eligible to sue for damages by filing a Nexium lawsuit.

In order to qualify for a Nexium lawsuit, persons must be able to prove a history of GERD and Nexium use. A qualified lawyer for defective drug lawsuits will evaluate the claim to determine eligibility and will explain the legal process in depth. In cases of hospitalization and severe injury, lawyers can help with managing medical bills and other financial obligations while a settlement is being determined.

Compensation in these lawsuits may be significant and can cover costs associated with medical bills, lost wages in the event the patient is still working, pain and suffering and more.

Protecting Consumers

Pharmaceutical companies like AstraZeneca have a legal responsibility to protect the health and safety of consumers. When they discover health risks associated with their medications, they have a legal obligation to notify the public and the FDA right away.

Even though heartburn medications may not be directly linked to the development of esophageal cancer, ECAN and other cancer advocates argue makers of heartburn medications have a duty to warn consumers that the symptoms may be a sign of an increased risk for cancer.