The Cancer Dangers Lurking in Widely Used Medications, and FDA Oversight Challenges

Some common drugs carry increased cancer risk, some due to contamination, while others have been associated with risk through recent research.

When taking medications for common reasons like lowering cholesterol, treating heartburn, and preventing pregnancy, most people trust these drugs are safe and effective.

However, some commonly used drugs may contain ingredients or contaminants that increase cancer risks. This problem could worsen as the United States relies more on overseas manufacturers with less stringent regulations to meet the growing demand for generics. Low profit margins have discouraged domestic production, forcing reliance on foreign plants where quality control may be lacking.

Hormonal Contraceptives

Millions of women worldwide use hormonal contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. Though such birth control pills are found to be around 99 percent effective, research suggests they may increase breast cancer risk, though the evidence is limited.

Most data come from observational studies, which can’t prove causation, only association.

Still, a large 2017 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) involving nearly 2 million Danish women found a small increased risk of breast cancer among women taking hormonal contraceptives, especially with longer duration of use.

Women using birth control pills for extended periods may face increased cervical cancer risks. The National Cancer Institute has reported that compared to nonusers, women taking these contraceptives for at least five years tend to have higher cervical cancer rates. Data show the risk seems to go up the longer oral contraceptives are used, while less than five years poses a 10 percent increased risk, five to nine years of use poses a 60 percent increased risk, and 10 or more years sees the risk doubled. However, researchers also found that after stopping the pills, the elevated cervical cancer risk seems to decline over time.


Statins are commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol, which, in turn, may reduce heart attack and stroke risk. However, some evidence suggests statin use may be linked to increased risk for certain cancers.

2011 study analyzing data from 88,125 cases and 362,254 matched controls found that taking statins for over four years was associated with a higher risk of colorectal, bladder, and lung cancers. No increased risk was found between statin use and any of the other most common cancer sites.

Statin medications may increase cancer risk due to their impact on cellular processes and even decrease insulin sensitivity. Statins inhibit an enzyme involved in cholesterol production and cell growth regulation. In some cases, reduced enzyme activity may affect cell signaling pathways and immune responses, possibly contributing to an elevated risk of certain cancers. This potential risk remains an area of ongoing research.

Heartburn Medicine

The heartburn medication ranitidine (Zantac) was recalled in 2020 after unsafe levels of the carcinogen N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) were found in it. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requested Zantac be removed from sale once NDMA was detected at higher than acceptable daily intake limits.

NDMA content also prompted recalls in 2018 of other common blood pressure medications like valsartan products, losartan, and irbesartan—medications used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.

“Some nitrosamines may increase the risk of cancer if people are exposed to them above acceptable levels over a prolonged period of time,” Emily Feivor, a registered dietitian nutritionist at Northwell Long Island Jewish Forest Hills in New York, told The Epoch Times.

Low levels of this chemical are also present in certain foods, including processed meats, vegetables, beer, and dairy products, Ms. Feivor said. “[Nitrosamines] have been shown to damage DNA and cause cancer,” she added.

Proton Pump Inhibitors

Although Zantac won’t return to the market, it has been replaced by Zantac 360, which uses a far-from-perfect drug called famotidine. Famotidine comes with potentially serious side effects, including heartbeat irregularities, anxiety, and difficulty breathing.

Commonly used alternatives are proton pump inhibitors (PPIs). However, a 2023 systematic review and meta-analysis published in Frontiers in Pharmacology found that PPIs are associated with increased gastric (but not colorectal) cancer risk. Study findings suggest that one reason for the increased risk may be that PPIs reduce healthy gut bacteria and promote the growth of pathogenic organisms that encourage the disease.

“Although PPI are generally considered to be effective and safe, they have many potential risks,” the study authors noted. They also recommended that the drug be used at the lowest possible dose and only briefly.

Overseas Drug Manufacturers and Growing Safety Concerns

U.S. dependence on foreign drug makers could jeopardize safety.

In July, the chair of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), alongside two colleagues on the Health and Oversight Subcommittee, sent a letter to FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf, citing poorly conducted inspections of Chinese and Indian plants.

“We are worried that the United States is overly reliant on sourcing from foreign manufacturers with a demonstrated pattern of repeatedly violating FDA safety regulations,” Ms. Rodgers and her colleagues wrote.

These two nations garner the most FDA warnings, according to information from Ms. Rodger’s office.

These violations have included:

  • Carcinogens in medicines.
  • Destroying or falsifying data.
  • Non-sterile manufacturing processes.

Moreover, China recently expanded its National Security Law, potentially blocking access to drug records and limiting inspector authority.

To address concerns, the Department of Defense and Valisure, an independent laboratory, launched a partnership to improve drug quality monitoring and exclude subpar products.

Important Notice: This article was originally published at by George Citroner where all credits are due.


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