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Abimbola FarindeAbimbola Farinde, Pharm.D., is a clinical pharmacist specialist with specializations in psychopharmacology and geriatrics.

Recently, Dr. Thomas A. Marciniak, a senior regulator at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), expressed his concerns over the potential link between a popular brand of blood pressure medication, angiotensin receptor blockers (ARB), and higher cancer rates (e.g., lung cancer). These statements highlight the continuing emphasis that is being placed on the safety monitoring of medication classes that have been on the market for several years. This report illustrates the ongoing announcement of safety concerns as a result of postmarketing surveillance of specific medication classes. The recent concern circling the ARBs is on the heels of other notable medication classes that received increased attention. For example, the antidepressant, citalopram, had been shown to cause abnormal changes in the electrical activity of the heart at doses greater than 40mg per day and invoking lower recommended doses for drugs containing zolpidem (Ambien®) due to a correlation seen with next morning impairment.

This report hopes to shed light on the significant impact that this class of maintenance medication, along with similar classes, have on improving the public’s quality of life, but also the possible risks that may be associated with long term use.

The use of blood pressure lowering medications has become the mainstay of therapy for most Americans. It is reported that approximately 65 million Americans who are sixty years of age or older have high blood pressure and the use of ARBs serves as one of the commonly utilized therapeutic interventions for effective management. The angiotensin receptor blockers that are currently on the U.S. market include Diovan, Benicar, Avapro, and Atacand, which are taken to not only treat hypertension but also to avoid stroke, heart attack, and heart failure. The suggestion of possible cancer risk may lead many to discontinued use of these drugs without proper medication consultation. According to the 2013 FDA release, a 2010 study published in Lancet Oncology examined five studies involving 68,402 patients and identified that 11% of patients that were taking ARBs were at greater risk for new cancers overall and 25% were at greater risk for new lung cancer. Clearance was given by the FDA in the aftermath of this published data through the performance of a meta-analysis.

It is my belief that additional studies should be considered since an awareness of the potential risk of cancer development has been linked to the use of ARBs.

Do you think changes should be made in regards to patient notification about the safety of prescription medicines?