LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- A group in Southern California said many people suffering from acid reflux are unaware it can cause cancer, and those who do know may believe over-the-counter heartburn medications reduce their risk of developing cancer.
But the Esophageal Cancer Action Network said the medications don't protect against cancer or Barrett's esophagus, a precursor to cancer.
According to the group, 20 million Americans suffer from acid reflux, and of that number, 15 percent have Barrett's esophagus.
But since there are no symptoms of Barrett's esophagus, doctors said a vast majority of patients with the precancerous condition have no idea they have developed the disease.
"Actually when patients start to develop Barrett's, many of their symptoms get better," said Dr. John Lipham, chief of the USC Upper GI and General Surgery at the Keck School of Medicine and chairman of the Esophageal Cancer Action Network.
The Esophageal Cancer Action Network has pushed for the Food and Drug Administration to put warning labels on all acid relflux medications to warn patients that they're not being protected against esophageal cancer.
"The medications are not protecting against esophageal cancer and that needs to be on the box so patients understand that," Lipham said.
Lipham urged people who have been taking acid reflux drugs for more than eight weeks to consult with a doctor.
"They should see their physician and let the physician determine whether or not they need further investigations," Lipham explained.