Common Pain Reliever Linked to Cancer

Frequent acetaminophen use increases risk of blood cancer

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Millions of people use over-the-counter pain relievers known as analgesics and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) every day. A new study shows that using a certain one of these medicines on a regular basis carries risks.

A Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center and Univesity of Washington study has found that high (frequent and long-term) use of acetaminophen increases the risk of certain blood cancers. High use is defined as taking the medicine four or more days a week for at least four years.

"Don't take acetaminophen on a regular basis."

The Vitamin and Lifestyle (VITAL) study involved 64,839 men and women between the ages 50 and 76 years who were recruited from 2000 to 2002. The objective of the study was to examine blood cancer risks associated between over-the-counter analgesics and NSAIDS. Previous studies have been inconclusive.

Blood (or hematologic) malignancies were diagnosed in 577 of the participants through December 2008. These cases were identified through the Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results cancer registry.

There was an increased risk of several hematologic malignancies associated with high use (4 days/week for 4 years) of acetaminophen. The specific cancers included:

  • Myeloid neoplasms
  • Non-Hodgkin's lymphomas
  • Plasma cell disorders

There was no increased risk for lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma (CLL/SLL).

By comparison, researchers found no increased risk of blood cancers associated with frequent, long-term use of aspirin, nonaspirin NSAIDs or ibuprofen.

The study authors concluded that high use of acetaminophen was associated with an almost two-fold increased risk of incident hematologic malignancies other than CLL/SLL.

Acetaminophen is found in a number of over-the-counter products. Common brand names include Anacin AF, Anacin-3 Maximum Strength, Feverall, Pediacare Children's Fever Reducer Pain Reliever, St. Joseph Aspirin-Free and Tylenol to name just a few.

A complete list of products containing acetaminophen can be found by clicking on the "Acetominophen" link below.

This study was in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
June 22, 2011
Last Updated:
June 23, 2011