Incidence of adenocarcinomas of the esophagus and gastric cardia has risen dramatically over the past 2 decades in the U. S., for reasons that are not yet clear. A number of common medications (e.g., calcium channel blockers, tricyclic antidepressants, and certain asthma medications) promote gastroesophageal reflux by relaxing the lower esophageal sphincter (LES). Reflux is thought to increase cancer risk by promoting cellular proliferation, and by exposing the esophageal epithelium to potentially genotoxic gastric and intestinal contents. Recent studies have suggested that calcium channel blockers may also increase cancer risk by inhibiting apoptosis. Using personal interview data from a multicenter, population-based case-control study conducted between 1993 and 1995 in three areas of the U. S., we evaluated whether the use of LES-relaxing drugs was associated with increased risk of adenocarcinomas of the esophagus and gastric cardia. Cases of esophageal adenocarcinoma (n = 293) and gastric cardia adenocarcinoma (n = 261) were compared with general population controls (n = 695). Information on additional case groups of esophageal squamous cell carcinoma (n = 221) and noncardia gastric cancer (n = 368) were also available for comparison. Overall, 27.4% of controls had used one or more of these drugs for at least 6 months, compared with 30.2% of esophageal adenocarcinoma and 23.8% of gastric cardia adenocarcinoma cases. The adjusted odds ratios (ORs) for ever use were 1.0 [95% confidence interval (CI) = 0.7-1.5] and 0.8 (95% CI = 0.5-1.1), respectively. There was little evidence of increasing risk with increasing duration of use of all LES-relaxing drugs together. We found an increased risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma among persons reporting use of asthma drugs containing theophylline (OR = 2.5; 95% CI = 1.1-5.6) or beta agonists (OR = 1.7; 95% CI = 0.8-3.8). Risks were higher among long-term users (>5 years) of these drugs (OR = 3.1; 95% CI = 0.9-10.3 and OR = 2.3; 95% CI = 0.8-7.0, respectively). In contrast, there was no evidence that the use of calcium channel blockers or other specific groups of drugs increased the risk of any of the cancers studied. These results provide reassuring evidence that the increases in incidence of adenocarcinomas of the esophagus and gastric cardia are not likely to be related to the use of LES-relaxing drugs as a group, or calcium channel blockers in particular, but they do suggest that persons treated for long-standing asthma may be at increased risk of esophageal adenocarcinoma.