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Do Prescription Drugs Cause Cancer?

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Do you consume carcinogens? These cancer-causing chemicals are everywhere, but most people either don’t recognize them or can’t avoid them.

Obviously, cigarette smoke is one of the most notorious sources of carcinogens. Other compounds that have been linked to cancer include asbestos, benzene and formaldehyde. Prudent people try to avoid exposure to such chemicals.

But what about prescription drugs? It comes as a shock to both patients and physicians that many commonly prescribed medicines have been shown to cause cancer in animals.

Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) is among the most controversial medications in this regard. Estrogen can promote uterine as well as breast cancer. Millions of women have taken HRT to ease symptoms of menopause. How many have developed cancer because of this treatment is unknown.

A surprising number of other prescription medications have warnings in their labels about cancer. For example, the popular heartburn medicine omeprazole (Prilosec) causes abnormal cell growth and stomach tumors (carcinoids) in rats. No one seems to know whether this constitutes a problem for people.

Spironolactone (Aldactazide, Aldactone) is a blood pressure medicine that is sometimes prescribed for hormonal imbalances and facial hair growth in women. It causes tumors in rats.

Parents of children with eczema have been worried by reports that the prescription topical skin treatments, Elidel cream and Protopic ointment, are associated with lymphoma and skin cancer. The FDA has warned against using these drugs in children under two years of age. It also states that, “The long term safety of Elidel and Protopic are unknown.”

Such cautions are not reassuring; they leave patients and physicians in a quandary. The same is true for the rheumatoid arthritis injections Cimzia, Enbrel, Humira and Remicade. These very expensive bio-tech drugs have revolutionized the treatment of rheumatoid arthritis and Crohn’s disease. Last summer the FDA announced that it was investigating an association between these medications and the development of lymphoma or other cancers.

Another hugely controversial cancer connection has to do with cholesterol-lowering drugs. An article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jan. 3, 1996) warned over a decade ago that, “All members of the two most popular classes of lipid-lowering drugs (the fibrates and the statins) cause cancer in rodents, in some cases at levels of animal exposure close to those prescribed to humans.”

Recent research in the New England Journal of Medicine (Sept. 25, 2008) has cast a spotlight on Vytorin (ezetimibe and simvastatin), a different kind of cholesterol drug. Investigators noted a higher incidence of cancer in subjects taking this medicine, although a separate analysis concluded there was no risk.

An editorial in the Journal noted that these findings leave both doctors and patients uncertain about the safety of this medicine. That could also be said of dozens of other drugs that cause cancer in animals. The FDA ought to require studies that would clarify the risk, rather than asking Americans simply to ignore warnings of cancer.

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I firmly believe that our mother died of breast cancer caused by reserpine. She was taking it for high blood pressure. The information on this drug states that it is an animal mammary tumorigen but the human information is not conclusive. I am a registered nurse and years ago I heard about this possibility. I believe my mother is proof. She did not have a mass. She had ductal carcinoma and her only symptom was bleeding. She underwent the current treatment for 1969 and she passed away 6 months after her first symptom. I'm glad that you asked this question.

Actonel caused my simple moles to turn dark and appear to be melanoma which they very well could have if I did not discontinue the medicine. I do have a 4" scar where one was removed and declared melanoma and a second review said it was not. I still stopped the Actonel and the moles went back to normal lighter color.

Does anyone know of any over-the-counter drugs that might cause cancer?

PEOPLE'S PHARMACY RESPONSE: IF THE FDA FINDS EVIDENCE THAT AN OTC DRUG CAUSES CANCER, IT GETS TAKEN OFF THE MARKET. ONE EXAMPLE IS PHENOLPHTHALEIN, ONCE AN INGREDIENT IN LAXATIVES.

My husband is 62 and just had his entire stomach removed due to adenocarcinoma (stomach cancer). It's been classified as Stage 3 due to the involvement of 10 out of 16 lymph nodes around the stomach - but thankfully it had not metastasized to any other organs yet. We only discovered it because he had a gastric bleeding episode in November and a follow-up endoscopy showed the tumor next to the ulcer that had bled.

My reason for looking up this response is that the cancer diagnosis is only the most recent of my husband's health issues. He has been on anti-depressants for more than 20 years (on Prozac most of that time), and has been a diabetic for almost 15 years. He was taking oral diabetes meds (Avandia and Metformin primarily) for most of that time. He was also put on one blood pressure medication (fosinopril) when he was diagnosed with diabetes as a preventative, and another (metoprolol) in 2005 after being diagnosed with an abdominal aortic aneurysm. In addition, he's a hemophiliac, so he has had many blood transfusions and clotting factor (Factor VIII) infusions throughout his life.

He also has suffered from sleep apnea and acid reflux for about 10 years. It was believed that the reflux was caused by the medications he took, and he was put on famotidine to protect his stomach/esophagus from the acid.

Last year, after the most recent CT scan showed that his aneurysm had grown to the point where the risk of a surgical repair (even for a hemophiliac) was less than the risk of rupture, he was sent for a cardiac stress test. They found blockages in his heart (his cholesterol had been high for a while, but he had to discontinue taking statin drugs to lower it due to them causing severe pain in his neck - to the point where he could no longer raise his arms - and no one suggested taking Niacin until my own doctor recommended it for me early last year).

So in February, my husband underwent CABG x6 (yes, that means he had 6 blocked vessels around his heart). In April he finally had the aneurysm repaired via endograft. By August he finished cardiac rehab, and we thought we were out of the woods- until Thanksgiving day when he had the bleeding episode, which led to the discovery of his stomach cancer.

The thing is, we learned about the heart risks of Avandia from one of the nurses at the hospital while my husband was recovering from the heart surgery. Until then, we had not heard about this, and none of his doctors had ever warned us or suggested switching him to a different diabetes medication.

Because of this, I began to wonder, with all the medications he has had to take for the last 2 decades, what are the chances that his stomach cancer (which, apparently, is far more common in Asia than in the US) could have been caused by one or more of the medications he was taking?

my mom died of lymphoma after taking diabetic medicine I believe this caused her cancer she was very healthy before taking this medicine

Most recently, there have been some other worrying developments. For example, ARBs, a class of Hypertension pharmacotherapeutics as a last resort, were found to be significantly linked to development of lung cancer. Another recent study suggests that non-steroidal anti inflammatory drugs (NSAID) may lead to breast cancer.

Estrogen is linked to prostate cancer and pioglitazone, a thiazolidinedione derivative used in management of Diabetes, is found to be linked to pancreas cancer. Finally, we all know about the link between Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT) and formation of breast cancer but did you hear about the risk of using prolonged proton pump inhibitors (omeprazole-Prilosec, lansoprazole, esomeprazole-Nexium, pantoprazole, rabeprazole, etc)? It is suggested that these drugs may be causing gastric cancer or gastric carcinoids or fundic polyps (another malignity).

Wow - can you give any more info/links re the connection between omeprazole and gastric cancers? As my above post points out, my husband was diagnosed with stomach cancer last December. He had his stomach removed in January and is still undergoing chemotherapy.

He had been taking both famotodine and omeprazole over the course of at least the last decade. He had had a gastric bleeding episode back in the 90's that was believed to have been caused by the irritation of some of the other meds he was taking, so they put him on famotidine. In 2005 he had another bleed, and was later diagnosed with diverticulosis. At that point he was put on a higher dose of famotidine, with intermittent periods of omeprazole to heal the stomach lining.

He was given omeprazole again after his heart surgery in 2010 and was on it for a little over a month before being switched back to famotidine. In November 2010 he had another bleed, which led to the cancer discovery.

So reading your post makes me wonder if either of these drugs may have been a contributing factor in his developing stomach cancer.

My Mother died of Stomach Cancer. She was very ill for most of her life. She was on dozens of different medications throughout her life, and I firmly believe that they were the cause.

Another reason that omerpazole is associated with stomach cancer is that it suppresses the symptoms of a stomach infection called H. Pylori, which is known to cause stomach cancer over the long term. You can get successful treatments for this condition, and it is also known that this is usually the cause of ulcers. So if you suddenly develop heart burn, gerd, burning stools, etc., and your doctor cannot explain your symptoms, ask for a stool test for H. Pylori. It is transmitted through saliva, or contaminated food. I.e., WASH your hands after you wipe your bottom!

I am on four different types of medications for various reasons. I am due to go in and have a biopsy done on the lining of my uterus. I am optimistic about this matter. However, I am not one that likes to take medication other than for a cold. Even then, I don't really like taking that. I will be stopping my medications after this.

I have noticed, that most of these comments are about cancer. I too, have cancer that runs in my family and I pray, that I don't get it either. I'm not going to go down without a fight because of this situation. I will fight it to the end. If medication is the cause of people getting sick and finding out that they do have cancer, then, is there anything that the patient can do about it other than stop taking their medication?

Forgive me for saying this, but I believe, that there should be. After all, you are putting chemicals in a person's body that is suppose to help them, but, in turn, it's hurting them more than it is helping them. I don't understand this. I can only pray, that there is a way to fight any and all cancer cells in another way other than taking medications.

Could you please tell me if Midodrine and Florinef are among the medications that have cancer causing agents in them? My daughter has been on these for a number of years to treat neurocardiogenicsyncope and is now having stomach trouble.

Could someone there at People's Pharmacy please reply on the Midodrine and Florinef question ??

If you have any doubt about whether your medications have any cancer causing chemicals in it, check the MSDS Sheets (Material Safety Data Sheets). You will have to find a site that will let you look up the different components. Look at your prescription insert and go to ingredients. Start hunting them down, one by one....Safety Data Sheets are what all Plants manufacturing chemicals use for employees working around them. They take the proper safety measures required by these sheets. I'm beginning to believe ALL or most ALL medications have some sort or irritant or carcinogen in them. Good luck. You decide for yourself what you put in your body. Just because the doctor gives you a prescription, doesn't mean you have to put it in your body...talk with your doctor...explain why you don't want to take it....show him solid proof...chances are, they already know. They just don't have anything else to offer us. You decide, you're paying for it.

I believe you are doing a good work. Keep it up.

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