Drugs that lower blood pressure may boost lip cancer risk

(NBC News) — Some drugs that treat high blood pressure may increase the risk of lip cancer, a new study suggests.

In the study, people who took the high blood pressure drug hydrochlorothiazide for five years or more were four times more likely to develop lip cancer, compared with those who did not take the drug. The study included only Caucasian people.

Hydrochlorothiazide is a photosensitizing drug, meaning it can increase a person’s sensitivity to sunlight. People who take photosensitizing drugs may burn more easily, or develop rashes upon sunlight exposure. Previous studies have linked hydrochlorothiazide and an increased risk of certain skin cancers.

Other photosensitizing drugs examined in the study, including one called nifedipine, increased the risk of lip cancer more than twofold in whites.

The findings held even after the researchers took into account study participants’ smoking, a factor that increases the risk of lip cancer.

Lip cancer is rare (there are about 0.7 cases per 100,000 people per year in the United States), and the benefits of high blood pressure drugs generally outweigh the increased risk of this particular cancer, the researchers said.

“However, physicians prescribing photosensitizing drugs 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,” the researchers said.

Ways to prevent lip cancer include wearing a hat with a sufficiently wide brim to shade the lips, and wearing lip sunscreens, the researchers said.


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