Even though Helicobacter pylori is shown to cause stomach ulcers and is linked to stomach cancer, eradication of the bacteria might not help everyone. A 2005 research study shows that people not infected with H. pylori have a markedly increased risk of developing esophageal cancer. This is especially true for white males, who comprise more than 80% of all esophageal cancer patients in the US.

While H. pylori infection is declining in the developed world, esophageal cancer is on the rise. Researchers have suggested that H. pylori infection may decrease gastric acidity in some people, thereby reducing the risk of reflux disease (GERD) and esophageal cancer.

In this study of 128,992 healthcare system members who had undergone a health checkup during the 1960s, regular follow-ups occurred over 5-35 years. The risk of developing esophageal cancer during the follow-up period was 80% lower in H. pylori-positive subjects compared with those who were not carriers. The result was only statistically significant among individuals who were younger than 50 at the time of the check-up.

The authors conclude that H. pylori may simultaneously increase the risk of development of ulcers, gastric cancer, and gastric lymphoma and decrease the risk of development of esophageal cancer and GERD.

First published in the Inside Tract® newsletter issue 152 – November/December 2005
C de Martel, A E Llosa, S M Farr, et al. Helicobacter pylori Infection and the Risk of Development of Esophageal Adenocarcinoma. The Journal of Infectious Diseases 2005;191:761-767