A new study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine has found a link between antihypertensive medications and breast cancer. One in every 3 American adults has high blood pressure and one in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Antihypertensive drugs are the most commonly prescribed class of medications in the United States. CBS News reports that 678 million prescriptions for high blood pressure were written in 2010. Many of these drugs were in a class called calcium channel blockers (CCBs.)
Calcium channel blockers are used for treating high blood pressure, angina, abnormal heart rhythms, and can also be used after a heart attack. They affect the movement of calcium through calcium channels by blocking the entry of calcium into the muscle cells of the heart and arteries. In this way, CCBs decrease the force of contraction of the muscle cells, and dilate arteries, which reduce blood pressure.
A team of researchers led by Dr. Christopher I. Li, an epidemiologist at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, sampled information on more than 2, 700 women ages 55 – 74, and data was collected regarding invasive ductal and invasive lobular breast cancers. Results have shown that the use of calcium-channel blockers for 10 or more years is associated with higher risks for developing these two types of cancer. In contrast, the use of other antihypertensives was not associated with higher risk.
“This is the first study to observe that long-term current use of calcium-channel blockers in particular are associated with breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women” researchers said. Additional research is needed to confirm this important finding and to explore the potential underlying mechanisms.
This is an observational study and it pinpoints aspects important for further research, so this does not mean that these medications cause breast cancer, and definitely does not mean that you should stop taking them. If you have concerns or other risks factors like family history, talk to your healthcare professional and discuss medical alternatives.
Additionally, this can motivate you to make some lifestyle changes to treat high blood pressure without medications, like quitting smoking, losing weight if you are overweight or obese, eating healthier – focusing your diet on fruits, vegetables, low fat dairy products; cutting out salt, sodium, saturated and total fat; limiting alcohol intake, and becoming physically active. The same advice can be applied for the prevention of breast cancer (with addition of limiting dose and duration of hormone therapy and avoiding exposure to radiation and environmental pollution.)
Every medication has potential side effects, so when thinking about the observed link between antihypertensive medications and breast cancer risk, it is important to remember that correlation does not mean causation.
Written by Milica Zujko