One of the most common medications prescribed for hypertension may put users at risk for skin cancer, according to recently published research from The University of Southern Denmark and the Danish Cancer Society.
The medication, hydrochlorothiazide, is a diuretic known by the brand name Microzide. It is used to treat high blood pressure as well as fluid retention. It is one of the most commonly used drugs in the world.
Previous studies have shown that the medication can increase the risk of lip cancer. The latest research, however, links hydrochlorothiazide to skin cancer, specifically squamous cell carcinoma. Other commonly used hypertension medications were included in the study, but none increased the risk of skin cancer.
Squamous cell carcinoma is a common form of skin cancer that develops in the squamous cells that make up the middle and outer layer of the skin. It is usually not life-threatening, though it can be aggressive in some cases. If left untreated, squamous cell carcinoma of the skin can grow large or spread to other parts of the body. It is most often caused by prolonged exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation.
“We knew that hydrochlorothiazide made the skin more vulnerable to damage from the sun’s UV rays, but what is new and also surprising is that long-term use of this blood pressure medicine leads to such a significant increase in the risk of skin cancer,” said Anton Pottegård, associate professor, Ph.D., from the University of Southern Denmark, who is the initiator of the study.
About 10 million people in the U.S. take hydrochlorothiazide. Researchers say that even though the medication is an effective and otherwise safe treatment for most patients, the study’s results should be considered by health care professionals before prescribing the drug. “Hopefully with this study, we can contribute towards ensuring safer treatment of high blood pressure in the future,” Pottegård added.