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Nexium and Aspirin No Miracle Cancer Shield After All


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Nexium and Aspirin throat cancer graphic

Headlines this month declared that a daily dose of Nexium and aspirin “can prevent esophageal cancer.” It sounded too good to be true. And it was.

After the news broke earlier this month, researchers walked back the claims. And it was a long walk.

The news came out of the American Society for Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting. Researchers presented a study looking at Nexium and aspirin use. The society sent out a news release overselling the findings.

The society heavily revised the statement days later. A Nexium and aspirin combination no longer “prevented esophageal cancer.” But it might “moderately reduce” the risk in certain patients.

Health News Review highlighted changes that appeared in the revised American Society for Clinical Oncology release.

American Society for Clinical Oncology Revisions

Original Release Revised Release
The original release claimed people could cut their esophageal cancer risk by 25 percent. The revision dropped that claim. It said the combination might moderately reduce the risk. But people would have to take it for at least seven years. It also said esophageal cancer “could be delayed” in Barrett’s esophagus patients.
The original release suggested using over-the-counter Nexium and aspirin to prevent esophageal cancer. The revised version warned that patients “should not self-medicate.” It stressed that patients should talk to their doctors about the condition’s risks.


Nexium is one of the most profitable drugs of the last quarter century. It has racked up $72.5 billion in sales in the past 25 years for AstraZeneca. The lead researcher in the Nexium-aspirin study received research funding from AstraZeneca.

Nexium and Aspirin: Getting the Story Right

The study looked at people with Barrett’s esophagus. Patients took high doses of Nexium and low doses of aspirin.

Are you suffering from side effects after taking Nexium or another PPI? Get a Free Case Review

Researchers studied patients who took the combination for at least seven years. They found in those cases, it could moderately reduce certain risk factors. These included esophageal cancer and other risks of death from Barrett’s esophagus.

Researchers in the study did not detail what role aspirin played. They found no aspirin benefit in their first analysis.

But then they looked at patients’ previous NSAID (nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) use. After adjusting for that, they reported a “weak effect” with the aspirin regimen.

A different study from 2017 found no evidence of PPI use alone preventing esophageal cancer. The researchers in that study suggested doctors reconsider using PPIs to prevent cancer.

Nexium Among Most Misused Drugs

Nexium is a proton pump inhibitor, or PPI. Studies have found proton pump inhibitors are among the most overused drugs in the U.S.

As much as 60 percent of people taking them would be better off taking a different medicine.

The FDA has approved PPIs to treat Barrett’s esophagus. Long-term acid reflux causes the condition. People with Barrett’s esophagus already face higher risks of esophageal cancer.

Medical groups recommend PPIs like Nexium to treat the condition. But the American Society for Clinical Oncology stressed that people should seek treatment under a doctor’s guidance.

Learn more about the misuse of PPIs

Study Linked Nexium, Other PPIs to Esophageal Cancer

A February 2018 study suggested PPIs like Nexium might cause esophageal cancer. It found PPIs may be responsible for five percent of esophageal cancer cases in Sweden.

The study looked at medical records for more than 796,000 Swedes. It included every adult in the country who underwent PPI therapy during a seven-year period.

It was the largest study that ever looked into the link between PPIs and esophageal cancer. Researchers in the Swedish study urged caution for long-term PPI use. They also said their findings may change the way doctors look at prescribing PPIs.

Esophageal cancer is not the only serious condition with ties to PPIs. Other serious PPI side effects include kidney disease, kidney injury and kidney failure.

Kidney problems have led more than 4,000 people to file PPI lawsuits. The lawsuits are in the very early stages.

Terry Turner
Written By Terry Turner Writer

Terry Turner has been writing articles and producing news broadcasts for more than 25 years. He covers FDA policy, proton pump inhibitors, and medical devices such as hernia mesh, IVC filters, and hip and knee implants. An Emmy-winning journalist, he has reported on health and medical policy issues before Congress, the FDA and other federal agencies. Some of his qualifications include:

  • American Medical Writers Association (AMWA) and The Alliance of Professional Health Advocates member
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Health Literacy certificates
  • Original works published or cited in Washington Examiner, MedPage Today and The New York Times
  • Appeared as an expert panelist on hernia mesh lawsuits on the BBC
Edited By
Emily Miller
Emily Miller Managing Editor

6 Cited Research Articles writers follow rigorous sourcing guidelines and cite only trustworthy sources of information, including peer-reviewed journals, court records, academic organizations, highly regarded nonprofit organizations, government reports and interviews with qualified experts. Review our editorial policy to learn more about our process for producing accurate, current and balanced content.

  1. Jankowski, J. et al. (2018, June 4). Chemoprevention of esophageal cancer with esomeprazole and aspirin therapy: Efficacy and safety in the phase III randomized factorial ASPECT trial. American Society of Clinical Oncology. Retrieved from
  2. Joyce, M. (2018, June 5). A hyped news release gets revised at ASCO: Did it lead to improved coverage from journalists? Retrieved from
  3. American Society of Clinical Oncology. (2018, June 4). Taking Acid-Reducing Medicine with Aspirin Offers Moderate Benefits in Patients with Barrett’s Esophagus. Retrieved from
  4. Brusselaers, N., Engstrand, L. and Lagergren, J. (2018, February 22). Maintenance proton pump inhibition therapy and risk of oesophageal cancer. Cancer Epidemiology. Retrieved from
  5. Jenkins, K. (2018, March 5). Long-Term PPI Use and Increased Esophageal Cancer Risk. Medscape. Retrieved from
  6. Hu, Q. et al. (2017, January 10). Proton Pump Inhibitors Do Not Reduce the Risk of Esophageal Adenocarcinoma in Patients with Barrett’s Esophagus: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. PLoS One. Retrieved from
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