How Does blood pressure medication increase breast cancer risk?

Older women who take certain types of medication to combat high blood pressure may be putting themselves at greater risk for developing breast cancer, according to a new study by a team of Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center scientists led by Dr. Christopher Li. The study is the first to observe that long-term use of a class of antihypertensive drugs known as calcium-channel blockers are associated with breast cancer risk.

 

 

Antihypertensive drugs are the most frequently prescribed medications in the United States, with more than 678 million prescriptions filled in 2010, nearly 98 million of which were for calcium-channel blockers.
Despite widespread and often long-term use of these drugs, studies and evidence linking them to breast cancer have been sparse and inconsistent.

The Fred Hutch team's findings were published in JAMA Internal Medicine. The study was covered by NBC's "Today Show," CBS News and other major media outlets, and generated numerous questions for Li.

Q: How can women tell if their antihypertensive drug is a potential risk?
A: Our study only included women 55 to 74 years of age and so we do not know if these results also apply to younger women. That said, the primary reason people use calcium-channel blockers is for hypertension, which is much more common among older than younger people.

Q: What alternatives are there to calcium-blocking antihypertensive drugs?
A: There are multiple classes of medications that are used to manage hypertension including diuretics, ACE inhibitors and beta blockers. However, the results of this study require confirmation before women taking calcium-channel blockers should consider switching to a different medication because of concern related to a possible association with breast cancer.

Q: Does being on a combination of antihypertensive drugs, including calcium-channel blockers, pose a greater breast cancer risk than being only on calcium-channel blockers?
A: We did not find any difference in cancer risk between women using calcium channel blockers alone or in combination.

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