Can blood pressure drugs increase cancer risk?
English scientists say yes. They've uncovered an troubling link between popular blood pressure meds known as angiotensin-receptor blockers, or ARBs, and cancers of the breast, prostate, and lung.
Their research - an analysis of previous research involving 60,000 people - found that those who took the drugs had about a 1 percent higher risk of getting cancer than those not taking the drugs.
Millions of people around the world take ARBs to treat high blood pressure and related conditions, including heart failure and diabetic kidney disease.
"The risk for the individual patient is modest," Dr. Ilke Sipahi, associate director of heart failure and transplantation at University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland and the study's lead author, told the Associated Press. "However, when you look at it from the population level, millions and millions of people are on these drugs and it can cause a lot of excess cancer worldwide."
Sipahi said he now thinks twice before prescribing ARBs to his patients. But he said patients should not stop taking the drugs, since their chances of dying from heart failure outweigh their chances of getting cancer. Patients who take ARBs should consult their doctors if they are concerned, Sipahi said.
ARBs are sold under brand names including Cozaar and Diovan, although much of the data used in the study involved an ARB sold as Micardis, according to the Wall Street Journal.
The company that makes Micardis, Boehringer Ingelheim, disputed the findings, claiming in a statement that it had data contradicting the study.
What explains the study's link between ARBs and cancer? Scientists aren't sure. But some animal studies suggest that the drugs trigger the growth of new blood vessels, which could then speed the growth of tumors.
The study was published Monday in the medical journal Lancet Oncology.