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Jul 06, 2011

Angiotensin Receptor Blockers (ARBs) Not Associated with Increased Cancer Risk

New study debunks association between cancer and drug used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure.

Angiotensin receptor blockers, also known as ARBs, are a type of drug commonly used to treat high blood pressure and heart failure. Popular brand names for ARB drugs include Atacand, Avapro, Benicar, Cozaar, Diovan, Micardis and Teveten. ARBs work by blocking the release of angiotensin in the body, a substance that can lead to the narrowing and hardening of arteries. By blocking angiotensin, ARBs help to relax blood vessels and put less pressure on the heart, reducing blood pressure.

While ARBs are extremely effective in treating hypertension, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expressed concerns in 2010 about these drugs increasing risk for cancer in patients. These concerns were based on findings in a small study that found a slightly increased risk for cancer in patients taking ARBs in comparison with those not taking the drugs. The FDA addressed this issue by conducting a large study of over 30 clinical trials to determine the relationship between ARBs and cancer risk.

Fortunately, findings from this meta-analysis study showed that ARBs do not increase risk for cancer in patients. Among the roughly 156,000 patients that participated in this study, risk for cancer was nearly identical between those taking ARBs and those not taking the drug. Accordingly, the FDA announced early June 2011 that ARBs are not associated with increased risk for cancer — an announcement welcomed by both patients and providers nationwide. Patients are advised to be sure to continue taking ARB medication unless advised by their healthcare providers, and to discuss any concerns that they may have regarding the drugs with their doctor. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why did a previous study suggest that ARBs are associated with increased cancer risk?

  • The study that raised concerns about ARBs and cancer risk was a small study that analyzed data from only 5 clinical trials. Due to the small size and other limitations of the study, further investigation was necessary to confirm or dispute these findings. Therefore, the FDA conducted a larger study involving 31 clinical trials and over 150,000 patients — the findings of which are much more reliable due to its size. 

  • Are all types of ARBs the same?
  • No. While all ARBs block the chemical angiotensin in the body, they can do this in varying ways. Consequently, some are more effective in treating certain conditions (such as high blood pressure) than others, and health care providers can use this information to decide which drug is best for each individual patient.

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