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Wednesday, 16 January, 2002, 18:59 GMT
Stomach pills 'may increase cancer risk'
Bacteria
Bacteria may cause stomach cancer
Taking common medications for heartburn may increase the risk of stomach cancer, research suggests.

Scientists believe that antacid medications may make the stomach more hospitable for bacteria which the body is trying to kill.

Two new studies suggest that these bacteria may be responsible for the inflammation that causes ulcers and stomach cancer.

A recent study suggested that the bacterium Helicobacter pylori is behind most cases of stomach cancer.

But the new research, carried out on mice, indicates that it is not the only culprit.

It also suggests that drugs used to lower stomach acidity may actively promote the growth of these bugs.

A team from the University of Michigan found that the strongest acid blockers are the most dangerous to use long-term.

The researchers treated normal mice with the antacid omeprazole for two months.

The animals developed stomach inflammation that was due to the overgrowth of bacteria.

The inflammation went away when the mice were given antibiotics.

Genetically engineered

Mice
The tests were carried out on mice
In the second study they genetically engineered mice that do not make gastrin, a hormone associated with acid production.

The mice developed stomach inflammation, called gastritis, but they could not be infected with Helicobacter.

It turned out that the mice had so many other bacteria in their stomachs that there was no room for the Helicobacter to grow.

Lead researcher Dr Juanita Merchant said it is probably the body's response to the bacteria that is causing the damage that leads to ulcers and stomach cancer.

She said: "It doesn't matter whether it is Helicobacter or bacterial overgrowth. The stomach reacts the same."

The bacteria that could be involved include lactobacillus, enterobacter, staphylococcus and probionibacterium.

Dr Merchant said popping the occasional calcium tablet or even taking a weaker prescription antacid is probably not risky.

She said: "I don't think there is a problem over the short term.

"It is months and years of chronic acid suppression (that causes the problem)."

The research is published in the journals Gastroenterology and the American Journal of Physiology.

See also:

17 Mar 00 | C-D
Stomach cancer
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