Healthy living

Heart drugs linked to increased cancer risk

Heart drugs linked to increased cancer risk Raised risk 'modest'

A class of drugs commonly used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure have been linked to an increased risk of cancer, new research has found.

Angiotensin-receptor blockers (ARBs), which are used in the treatment of high blood pressure, heart failure, and kidney damage due to diabetes, work by blocking the receptors for angiotensin II, a hormone that increases blood pressure.

A previous study reported a significantly increased risk of fatal cancers in patients who were given an ARB called candesartan, compared with those given a placebo (dummy pill).

However, US researchers analysed the data from all ARB trials published before November 2009.

They included new cancer data in five trials involving 61 590 patients, common types of solid-organ cancers (lung, prostate, breast) in five trials of 68 402 patients, and cancer deaths in eight trials involving 93 515 patients.

Most of the patients (87%) in the trials had been given the ARB telmisartan.

Overall, the findings showed that that patients taking ARBs had a increased likelihood of a new cancer diagnosis compared with patients who had taken a placebo (7.2% vs 6.0%).

The researchers from the Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, Cleveland described the increased risk as "modest but significant." They also added: " The finding of a 1.2% increase in absolute cancer risk over an average of 4 years needs to be interpreted in view of the estimated 41% background lifetime cancer risk.”

As data was only available on three ARBs - telmisartan, losartan and candesartan - the researchers said it was not possible to work out the exact risk of cancer associated with individual ARBs.

The findings are published online in Lancet Oncology.

Judy O’Sullivan, senior cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This analysis of previous research is inconclusive and anyone taking ARBs to treat their heart disease, or risk of developing it, shouldn’t stop based on this alone.

“The benefits of taking the drug are well established and it remains an effective treatment for many of the 2.6 million people in the UK living with coronary heart disease.

“We need more research to look specifically into any potential risks of developing cancer when taking ARBs. For now, anyone concerned about their risk of developing cancer should talk to their doctor.”

This article was published on Mon 14 June 2010

Image © Sebastian Kaulitzki -

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