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Blood Pressure Drugs Linked to Lip Cancer

August 7, 2012 — A new study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine has linked the long-term use of some high blood pressure medications (also known as anti-hypertension drugs) to an increased risk of lip cancer in people with light-colored skin. Nearly all blood pressure drugs are known to make skin more sun-sensitive. In an accompanying editorial note, the researchers warned that the drug might also increase the risk of skin cancer.

The researchers evaluated lip cancers in patients from Kaiser Permanente between 1994 and 2008, and evaluated the types of blood pressure prescriptions. There were 712 patients who were taking blood pressure drugs and also developed lip cancer. These patients were compared to 23,000 patients who did not have lip cancer.

They found that patients with darker-colored skin had a reduced risk of lip cancer compared to patients with lighter-colored skin. So, the researchers focused their study on patients with lighter-colored skin. They found that people who took blood pressure drugs for at least five years had an increased risk of skin cancer, as follows:

  • 4-fold increased risk for patients on hydrochlorothiazide
  • 3-fold increased risk for patients on hydrochlorothiazide-triamerene (Dyazide, Maxzide)
  • 2.5-fold increased risk for patients on nifedipine (Adalat, Nifediac, Procardia, etc.)
  • 1.4-fold increased risk for patients on lisinopril

Researchers emphasized that the risk of lip cancer is rare, and the benefits of using these drugs likely outweighs the risk. According to the researcher who led the study, “I do not want to alarm people to the extent they are going to stop staking their medicine for blood pressure.”

The researchers also noted that because lip cancer is “a relatively infrequent form of cancer, it is not surprising that associations with antihypertensive drugs have not been observed in large clinical trials.”

Fortunately, lip cancer is rarely life-threatening because it is usually diagnosed and removed early. Even so, the researchers advised that doctors should “ascertain whether patients are at high risk of lip cancer because of their fair skin and long-term sun exposure and discuss lip protection with them.”

Patients can reduce their risk of skin cancer by wearing lip protector balms, sunscreen, large-brim hats, rash guard swimming suits, and avoiding sun exposure when the sun is most intense. These steps can reduce the risk of skin cancer for everyone, but doctors should remind people taking photosensitizing drugs about the potential increased risk.

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