The People's Perspective on Medicine

Cancer Warnings on Advertised Medications Make Patient Furious!

Q. Don’t you think it is counterproductive to advertise so many drugs on TV and at the end of the commercial it says “may cause cancer”?

We are battling cancer every day with so many people affected by this terrible disease. They list the side effects of each drug and the different kinds of cancer that the drug causes. How dare these pharmaceutical companies advertise and reap monies when so many people are suffering from cancer because of the drugs they advertise? Shame, shame on them.


A. Josie, we too find it astonishing when a drug company broadcasts a TV commercial and throws in cancer as a potential side effect as if it is not that big a deal.

What surprises us even more, though, is how many medications have been linked to cancer. The FDA doesn’t seem fazed by this kind of information. The agency includes cancer warnings in the official prescribing information of lots of medicines. That leaves physicians and patients in a quandary as to what to make of these sorts of pronouncements.

Skin creams prescribed for eczema such as Elidel (pimecrolimus cream) and Protopic (tacrolimus cream) carry a cancer warning. So do drugs that belong to a class of medications called TNF (tumor necrosis factor) blockers that are prescribed for serious conditions such as Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, rheumatoid arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, juvenile arthritis, plaque psoriasis or ankylosing spondylitis. Drugs in this class include: Cimzia, Enbrel, Humira and Remicade.

You can imagine what a double bind patients and families are put in when they read warnings about “lymphomas and other malignancies, some fatal, have been reported in children and adolescent patients treated with tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers…”


In recent months there have been several worrisome reports about certain popular categories of blood pressure medicines. The most recent article was published in JAMA Internal Medicine (online, Aug 5, 2013). Calcium-channel blockers (CCBs) are among the most widely prescribed antihypertensive drugs in the pharmacy. They include amlodipine, felodipine and verapamil.

The epidemiological study in question uncovered a relationship between the long-term use of these drugs (more than 10 years) and a risk for invasive ductal or lobular breast cancer.

This study was not designed to tell if the connection is causal. Such epidemiological research cannot prove cause and effect. But this is not the first time CCBs have been linked to breast cancer. The investigators caution that women should not panic and stop taking their blood pressure pills. But those with other risk factors for breast cancer should discuss this study with their physicians, since the type of medicine taken for hypertension can often be changed. Other classes of blood pressure medication showed no association with breast cancer.

The authors conclude:

“In summary, this study provides evidence that long-term recent use of calcium-channel blockers may be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer. Further efforts to confirm this association are needed and are of public health importance, given that antihypertensive drugs are the most commonly prescribed class of medication in the United States.”


Another raging controversy involves a class of blood pressure drugs called ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers. These are also highly prescribed and include:

  • Atacand (candesartan)

  • Avapro (irbesartan)

  • Benicar (olmesartan)

  • Cozaar (losartan)

  • Diovan (valsartan)

  • Edarbi  (azilsartan)
  • Micardis (telmisartan)

  • Teveten (eprosartan)

An FDA safety reviewer has analyzed data regarding ARBs and concluded that such drugs were linked to a 24% increased risk of lung cancer. Executives within the FDA have downplayed the controversy and have opted not to issue any new warnings about cancer.

From our vantage point it often seems as if the FDA views such data quite impersonally. But as Irving Selikoff, MD, once said, “Statistics are people with the tears wiped away.” We recently received the following message from a visitor to this website:

“My parents were lifelong non-smokers. My mother just passed away this spring of lung cancer. She’d been taking Micardis for at least four years. Could that have contributed to the cancer?”

]We have no way of knowing whether this ARB contributed to or caused this woman’s lung cancer. And that is the problem with most studies. Cancer is common. Blood pressure prescriptions are common. If there is an association between the two, it is hard to prove.]

Hopefully the FDA will take such concerns seriously because such warnings leave both patients and physicians in a terrible double bind. We want to control serious conditions such as hypertension, rheumatoid arthritis and psoriasis. But we do not want to have to weigh successful treatment of these problems against a potential risk of cancer down the road. If there is a real risk of cancer we need to know. If the risk is meaningless we should be told that so that we no longer need worry. Leaving us in limbo is unacceptable.

Please share your own thoughts and experiences below in the comment section.

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About the Author
Joe Graedon is a pharmacologist who has dedicated his career to making drug information understandable to consumers. His best-selling book, The People’s Pharmacy, was published in 1976 and led to a syndicated newspaper column, syndicated public radio show and web site. In 2006, Long Island University awarded him an honorary doctorate as “one of the country's leading drug experts for the consumer.” .
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Have been on blood pressure medication for years. After reading the concerns about Lisinopril and HCTZ I started worrying. Taking both of those for several years my doctor also wanted to add Amlopidine to the mix even though my BP was very good. WHAT??? Another med????? NO WAY!!!!!!! I asked him to switch me to Telmisartin even though I’m not sure this is risk-free either. Do these doctors keep up with the info on the drugs they so easily pass out?? Can we say: “Cute drug sales rep”?????

It is not just prescription drugs that can cause cancer. I am a non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma survivor, and learned a couple of years ago that studies indicate that regular use of acetaminophen (Tylenol) can increase the risk of blood cancers (lymphoma and leukemia). This information is not listed on websites for Tylenol or other medical sites that give information on generic acetaminophen.

“You can imagine what a double bind patients and families are put in when they read warnings about “lymphomas and other malignancies, some fatal, have been reported in children and adolescent patients treated with tumor necrosis factor (TNF) blockers…”
What makes it even more complicating for families is that juvenile arthritis is a “diagnosis of exclusion”. There is no one definitive test to prove exactly what your child is suffering from. The diagnosis is made after other things are ruled out, and often cancer is one of them! Parents are put through the wringer awaiting the results of expensive, invasive testing (watching their child endure blood draws, IVs of contrast, injections of isotopes, bone scans, CT scans, MRIs, etc.) When that nightmare ends with the good news that your child is cancer-free, you are then told they need a drug that can cause cancer!
Several times when we have discussed TNF-inhibitors, I have asked what seems like an obvious question: Can you test to see if there is too much TNF? What if that isn’t the problem?
Apparently that is just crazy talk from a crazy mom. No, they can’t, and they have never said it is being studied or considered. How do they know they are inhibiting it, if there is no way measure it?
At least with the blood pressure drugs, you know your pressure is high and you know if the drug is working for you if it lowers it.

My husband has been on blood pressure medicine since before we married 30 years ago. For the last 10 years or so he has taken Diovan. Perhaps he will have a longer life because of it. Perhaps he will die of cancer because of it. We cannot foretell what will happen, and there is no incentive for the pharmaceutical companies to find out how much danger such medications put each of us in. Since the FDA gets most of its operating money from the Pharmaceutical Industry rather than the taxpayers, it isn’t motivated to keep medicines off the market.
Medicines are necessary to give us the quality of life we want. Pharmaceutical companies need profits to continue their experiments and research to identify better medicines. So they advertise to increase sales and profits. But more of their profits go into advertising than into research.
The answer seems apparent to all but the pharmaceutical companies, the FDA and the Congress–stop advertising all medicines. Leave it to the doctors to decide the best medicine for a condition–not to the person watching television. Then get the FDA back in the business of regulating rather than promoting medicines.

If you read that handout the pharmacist gives you with your prescription and you read the whole thing it’s incredible
some of the side effects. I take Micardis! I was taking Atenolol for my BP, but they switched me to Micardis because of COPD. I am asking the Doc to put me back on the Atenolol – I am so fatigued all the time – I think it’s the Micardis. I stopped smoking in 2006 and I can still go for one plus hour walks.

I have complained for years to every TV station, and magazine I subscribe to about ads for prescription drugs on TV and media print. No patient should be making medication decisions based on an ad they see on TV or read in a magazine. All this does is add to the costs of the drug for those who truly need them, and give them “designer” prices that no insurance company will pay for in its entirety. What is causing the rampant increase in cancer among us? More and more young people are being diagnosed everyday. It should be a requirement to determine what is causing this as much as how to treat it. Where are all the research dollars going, in drug company pockets?
An outrage for sure.

Well, I DO NOT AGREE with the banned drug advertisement because that is the only way one can learn or know which medications cause cancer. For example I took two DIABETIC medications that later saw caused cancer. They had been on TV, when the doctor prescribed for me, I refused and ask for another medicine with less serious side effects. I check the FDA website, they DIDN’T have any warnings… even though they did have one for aspirin and other non-dangerous medications.
I WANT TO KNOW if the medicine I am taking can cause cancer or other kind of serious illnesses. ACTOSE, and 3 or 4 or more DIABETIC medications can cause cancer and other illnesses. WE ALL SHOULD HAVE A LIST OF THEM, SO WE HAVE THE CHOICE when we are given… especially when we can try other remedies first or other (old) medications with no serious side effects and working perfectly fine. All new medications are given because the $$$ money involved. Some doctors are eager to accept these pressed by pharma/drug companies even they do have the choice to get old cheaper medications.

I don’t think many people realize there are natural cures for most conditions. The pharmaceutical companies didn’t become popular until the late 1940’s, and we know that there were cures for many things before that. Then take a look westward at the natural cures used in India and China going back several hundred years. If you value your health, then spend some money on it and quit complaining. If you have to belong to an hmo, then go see a naturopath on the side, whenever your allopathic doctor prescribes a pharmaceutical drug.
Never fill a drug prescription until you have researched it thoroughly. Never, and I can’t emphasize this enough, assume your doctor knows what’s right for you. Many, though they care about medicine, are so brainwashed by the corruption in the system that they don’t realize it. And then there are those who really have a God complex, and how dare you question them. Don’t be afraid to interview a new doctor, and tell them what you want from him.

TV should be banned.

Clearly most people do not take drugs seriously. Current side effects are rarely connected to the drug and harsher side effects usually do not happen until years later. There is little motivation for the drug companies or doctors to give us the real scoop, and much motivation not to. What could mainstream doctors offer without drugs and tests to determine if we need them? How many pharmaceutical employees would be put out of work if the whole truth about drugs were revealed.
The good news is that things are changing, and quickly. When I was your age, there was little information about diet, and exercise. Supplements? Vitamin C and Calcium. Now look: a huge industry and mountains of information. I believe the government will someday take over doing the studies, eliminating vested interest in them, and the government will supervise the supplements, just as the FDA does drugs. I know! There are problems with that also. Physicians will be trained in preventive medicine as well as drugs. Things are looking up, thanks to sites like this one.

TV should be banned for all drugs advertisement.

My husband is in remission from lymphoma. Every time he hears lymphoma casually mentioned as a side effect of some medication, it makes him very upset. Me too. It is not a casual side effect!

My brother-in-law has battled rheumatoid arthritis for many years – two years ago he was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. His doctor hinted it was probably a side effect of some of the arthritis drugs. While on chemotherapy for the lymphoma, he had MRSA and C-Diff, possibly because of his damaged immune system because of drugs. He has really been a tough old bird to still be alive.

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