Kidney Cancer Associated with NSAID Drugs

November 12, 2012

Kidney Cancer Associated with NSAID Drugs

A recently published report in the Archives of Internal Medicine, has indicated that people who take non-aspirin anti-inflammatory pain killing drugs regularly are doubling their chances of developing kidney cancer. The study says that men and women both have the same amount of increased risk.

Previous studies, all small scale, have indicated some uncertain association between NSAID drugs and kidney cancer. However Eunyoung Cho, ScD, is a co author of the study and is assistant professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, reports that this is the biggest study to investigate the link between kidney cancer and the class of drugs called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs).

NSAIDs include many everyday names such as ibuprofen and naproxen. Brand names for these products are Advil, Motrin, Celebrex and Aleve, amongst others. Aspirin is perhaps the most well known drug in this family yet no link was discovered between aspirin and an increased risk of developing kidney cancer in this study.

Cho says that the overall risk is still quite low. She does not think that people should stop taking NSAIDs in the short term or that doctors should stop recommending them to patients who otherwise benefit from them.

Christopher W. Ryan, MD, who is a kidney cancer specialist and had no involvement with this study says, “Occasional use for aches and pains is nothing to worry about. But one’s risk of getting kidney cancer, even for a long-time user, is not high at all”.

How the Study Measured the Risk

Initially the researchers analyzed the medical records of almost 130,000 people, 77,000 women and 50,000 men. The information was drawn from previous large scale surveys, the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. NSAIDs usage was recorded over periods of time, 16 years and 20 years. It was found that NSAIDs which were non aspirin were commonly being taken at least twice a week by 6% of the men and 19% of the women.

Throughout the period of the study it was found that the risk of developing kidney cancer increased by 51%. The increase was equal for men and women. Things must be put into perspective though; the risk of developing kidney cancer is very small, increasing the risk by 51% means that the risk still remains very small. From the 130,000 involved in the study only 333 were diagnosed with kidney cancer but the study did identify that the risk varied depending on the amounts and length of time the drugs were taken for.

People who regularly took non aspirin NSAIDs for 4 to 9 years increased their risk by 36% compared to infrequent users. The researchers concede that maybe this finding was due to chance. However they did find that one group of people increased their risk of developing kidney cancer by 300%, that was people who had taken them regularly for more than ten years. Most people only take NSAIDs for short amounts of time, only a small percentage of people take them longer term.

The study also identified that for women, during any given month, risk increased as they took more pills. An 8% increase among women who used NSAIDs up to four times a month was noted. When women took the pills for more than 15 days the risk of developing kidney cancer rose to 86%. No dosage information was available for men.

Response from the Pharmaceutical Companies

The pharmaceutical industry has an industry group called The Consumer Healthcare Products Association (CHPA), which has been set up to represent over the counter drug manufacturers. The CHPA asserts that as long as the instructions on the label are followed then the drugs are safe and effective.

The have issued a statement which reports that, “The results of this study reinforce our guidance to consumers that long-term use beyond labeled directions should only be undertaken after consultation with a doctor, who can appropriately evaluate benefits/risks and monitor therapy closely”.

Just over 60,000 new cases of kidney cancer will occur this year in the U.S. according to the American Cancer Society. This will result in the death of more than 13,000 people. The type of cancer being researched in this study is called renal cell cancer. This type makes up about 85% of all kidney cancers, and are frequently treatable if found early.

The report found that the increased risk was equal both in men and women, yet if you are a man you are twice as likely to develop kidney cancer as a woman. The researchers comment that because the link was seen in two different groups then it is more likely to be a valid finding.

Previous research has indicated that NSAIDs were linked with reduced risks in relation to breast, colorectal and prostate cancers. Yet other research pieces have noted that kidney problems, both acute and chronic seem to be associated with NSAIDs.

The researchers agree that although they have added to the body of knowledge regarding the link between kidney cancer and NSAIDs their finding should be confirmed by further work. They also point out that the risks are very small but people should be aware. Cho says, “The risk is something to keep in mind, but there need not be a change in practice at this point.”

Ryan reinforces this view and points out that if you want to lower your chances of getting kidney cancer then stop smoking, do more exercise and lose weight.

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