Angiotensin receptor blockers | Cancer risk worth the benefit?

Heart Monitor

Angiotensin receptor blockers are being investigated for their possible contribution to cancer risk. Image from Flickr.

Angiotensin receptor blockers are a type of drug used to treat high blood pressure and diabetic nephropathy. In a recent study published in the Lancet Oncology journal, though, researchers found that patients taking angiotensin receptor blockers such as Diovan, Cozaar, Telmisartan, Lisinopril, and Hyzaar may be at a slightly increased risk of cancer. The increased cancer risk of angiotensin receptor blockers amounts to about one percent, though the mortality rate is unchanged. In other words, patients might be more likely to get cancer, but they are not more likely to die from it.

The angiotensin receptor blockers study

The study, published this morning online in the Lancet Oncology journal, analyzed the medical records of 61,590 patients taking angiotensin receptor blockers. This meta-analysis relied on the data of eight trials of angiotensin receptor blocker drugs. All eight trials were published before November 2009. The meta-anaylsis found that patients taking angiotensin receptor blockers had a “significantly” increased risk of “solid organ” cancers. In the context of this study, “significant” means statistically significant – only about one percent. Even though the patients taking angiotensin receptor blockers were one percent more likely to get a new cancer, they were not any more likely to die from those cancers.

The uses of angiotensin receptor blockers

Angiotensin receptor blockers, or ARB drugs, are used to treat a wide variety of heart conditions. The angiotensin receptor blocker drug helps relax the muscles around blood vessels, keeping them from contracting. This also makes it easier for new blood vessels to grow. Increasingly, angiotensin receptor blockers are being used in a preventative fashion to help prevent kidney failure and heart attacks. Just three of the seven available angiotensin receptor blockers had sales of over $9 billion in 2009. The income from regimen drugs such as this is often a large portion of the over $650 billion market in pharmaceuticals. Dr. Steven Nissen, a cardiologist at the Clevaland Clinic, wrote in his commentary also published in the Lancet that:

“These drugs are often overprescribed, as a result of aggressive marketing and in the absence of evidence that they are better than angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors,” another class of drugs.

What to do if you take angiotensin receptor blockers

Angiotensin receptor blockers can be very useful drugs. However, if you take angiotensin receptor blockers, it is important to discuss with your doctor exactly the reasons and uses of any drug that you are on. The increase in cancer risk from angiotensin receptor blockers does exist. However, the risk of dying from heart disease or kidney failure could often outweigh the one percent risk of a non-fatal cancer. Weigh the potential risks of taking angiotensin receptor blockers against the potential benefits very carefully.


CBS News

The Lancet

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