Head and Neck Cancer Risk with GERD

Head and Neck Cancer Risk with GERD

Published on Friday, December 02, 2022 by Haley McGaha

I have recently written articles on GERD and its relationship to esophageal and gastric cancer, but are there other cancers it may be linked to?

Did you know some researchers believe that GERD may be related to a specific type of head and neck cancer called larynx (voice box) and pharynx (throat) cancer?

As background, several types of cancers can form in the head and neck. They include the oral cavity, throat (pharynx), voice box (larynx), paranasal sinuses and nasal cavity, and salivary glands.

Here are some risk factors for cancers of the head and neck.

  • Alcohol and tobacco use
  • HPV infection
  • Paan (betel quid) which is a common custom in Southeast Asia
  • Occupational exposure (construction, metal, textile, ceramic, logging, and food industries specifically)
  • Poor nutrition
  • Poor oral and dental hygiene
  • GERD and laryngopharyngeal reflux disease (LPR)

What are the symptoms of larynx cancer?

Typical symptoms include trouble breathing or speaking, pain with swallowing, or ear pain.

What are the symptoms of pharynx cancer?

These are different from larynx symptoms and may include pain with swallowing.

It may also present as pain in the neck or throat that will not go away, pain or ringing in the ears, and trouble hearing.

Now that we know a little bit about both larynx and pharynx cancer, let’s look to see what the research has to say about its relationship with GERD.

Several studies have looked at GERD and its association with both larynx and pharynx cancer with mixed results. However, more and more large population-based studies have been conducted showing an association between the two.

population-based case-control study by Langevin et al. aimed at the connection between laryngopharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (LPSCC) and heartburn. They also wanted to look at the use of GERD medications to see if medications help to play a protective role in preventing LPSCC.

Langevin et al. concluded that there is an association between frequent heartburn and LPSCC. They also concluded that antacid use does play a protective role in developing LPSCC.

Another study by Busch et al. had the same goal in mind and wanted to see if GERD is related to pharynx and larynx cancer. They did a large population-based case-control study of head and neck cancer and found that hypopharyngeal and laryngeal cancer cases had slightly greater odds of having been diagnosed with GERD compared to controls.

You may be wondering; how could GERD possibly be related to larynx or pharynx cancer. Well, let’s take a look at a possible hypothesis.

Unlike the esophagus, the pharynx and larynx lack protective mechanisms against acids such as mucus, peristalsis, and carbonic anhydrase enzymes. It is also thought that since it is so close to the upper esophagus, it could be at higher risk for GERD-based cancer.

For further reading, this article is on tips to help reduce your risk of cancer.


  1. Head and neck cancers. National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://www.cancer.gov/types/head-and-neck/head-neck-fact-sheet
  2. Head and neck cancer - risk factors and prevention. Cancer.Net. (2021, October 7). Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://www.cancer.net/cancer-types/head-and-neck-cancer/risk-factors-and-prevention
  3. Langevin SM;Michaud DS;Marsit CJ;Nelson HH;Birnbaum AE;Eliot M;Christensen BC;McClean MD;Kelsey KT; (n.d.). Gastric reflux is an independent risk factor for laryngopharyngeal carcinoma. Cancer epidemiology, biomarkers & prevention : a publication of the American Association for Cancer Research, cosponsored by the American Society of Preventive Oncology. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23703970/
  4. AF;, B. E. L. Z. J. P. O. (n.d.). Gastroesophageal reflux disease and odds of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma in North Carolina. The Laryngoscope. Retrieved November 8, 2022, from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26451875/ 

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