Advertisement

What is the link between antiotensin-receptor blockers and cancer?

Anthony L. Komaroff, MD
Internal Medicine
ARB stands for angiotensin-receptor blocker, a class of medications that is used to control high blood pressure, treat heart failure, and prevent kidney disease in people with diabetes or high blood pressure. ARBs are often prescribed when an ACE inhibitor isn't effective, or the side effects are intolerable. The generic name for Cozaar is losartan; the generic names for ARBs end in Ðsartan: candesartan (Atacand), eprosartan (Teveten), irbesartan (Avapro), and so on.

The news reports about ARBs and cancer were based on a meta-analysis published in 2010 in The Lancet Oncology. A meta-analysis is a type of study that pools the results of previously published studies in order to arrive at an overall conclusion. The result that made headlines came from randomized trials of telmisartan, which is sold as Micardis in this country. In trials that enrolled a total of about 30,000 people, those who were assigned to take telmisartan were more likely to have developed cancer (7.2% of the telmisartan takers vs. 6.0% of those in the control groups) and lung cancer especially.

Does this mean that all ARBs cause cancer? Or is telmisartan the only ARB that does? Or is the risk limited to a slightly increased rate of lung cancer? No one really knows at this point. The fact is that this study is a backward look at data originally collected by researchers who were not focusing on the risk of cancer from these drugs. In fact, most of the trials were probably too short to detect an increased risk of cancer.

The results shouldn't stop people from taking their ARBs because they might cause cancer. Not taking your medications for high blood pressure or heart failure might be much more dangerous for you than a small increase in the risk of cancer—even if that risk proves to be real. Studies like this do show that more research is needed to determine the long-term consequences of many drugs, including ARBs, and the FDA is conducting a review of ARBs because of this meta-analysis.
Harvard Medical School Heart Disease: A guide to preventing and treating coronary artery disease

More About this Book

Harvard Medical School Heart Disease: A guide to preventing and treating coronary artery disease

Most people who develop heart disease at least 8 in every 10 have one or more major risk factors that are within their power to change. These include lack of exercise, high blood pressure, and...

Continue Learning about Cancer Causes & Risk Factors

How Your Diet Affects Your Risk for Cancer
How Your Diet Affects Your Risk for Cancer
Cancer is a leading cause of death worldwide—and while survival rates are on the rise, many cases of the disease are preventable. In fact, in the Unit...
Read More
Is work stress related to cancer risk?
Dr. Robin Miller, MDDr. Robin Miller, MD
We know that stress does take a toll on your body but when it comes to work stress a study has s...
More Answers
What health problems might DES-exposed mothers have?
Riverside Cancer Care CenterRiverside Cancer Care Center
Women who used DES may have a slightly increased risk of breast cancer. Current research indicates t...
More Answers
How Can We Improve Cancer Survival Rates?
How Can We Improve Cancer Survival Rates?

Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.