No Harmless Meds After All

Renal cancer risk slightly increased with chronic NSAID use

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

(RxWiki News) Over the counter medications like Advil, Tylenol, and other pain relieving drugs are found in many households, and are generally considered safe when used properly.

Even the safest drugs have risks. Using too much of a common pain relieving drug may cause a variety of problems.

For example, while it's perfectly safe at normal doses, Tylenol is the leading cause of non-alcoholic liver failure in adults.

"Always read the information relating to the medications you take."

A recent study concluded that years of daily use of non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), in the same family as Advil (ibuprofen), slightly increases the risk for developing renal cell (kidney) cancer. Risk increased slightly the longer the medication had been taken, up to three times the normal lifetime risk. 

Aspirin and Tylenol (acetaminophen) were also studied, but did not demonstrate the same increase in cancer risk.

This development provides an interesting counterpoint to previous theories that long term use of anti-inflammatory drugs, including statins (drugs used to lower cholesterol), may lower the risk of developing certain types of cancer. 

Data was taken from two studies, the 1990 Nurses' Health Study and the 1986 Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Together, twenty years of patient records were analyzed for a combined total of 333 cases of renal cell cancer out of the 126,928 people.

Renal cell cancer (RCC) accounts for 85 percent of all kidney cancers. 

The study analyzed the theory that these drugs may be involved with some minor damage to the kidneys, due to both their direct removal by the kidney, as well as the effects of the drugs on blood flow.

The cancer risk changed from the normal risk of 1.5 percent during a person's lifetime, to 2.9 percent if non-aspirin NSAID drugs were used daily for more than ten years.

"In these large prospective studies of women and men, we found that use of non-aspirin NSAIDs was associated with an elevated risk of RCC, especially among those who took them for a long duration," write the authors, who add that aspirin and acetaminophen were not associated with RCC risk.

"Risks and benefits should be considered in deciding whether to use analgesics; if our findings are confirmed, an increased risk of RCC should also be considered."

Results were published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

No conflicts of interest were disclosed by researchers.

The study was supported by research grants from the National Institutes of Health, the Kidney Center Association and the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
May 9, 2012
Last Updated:
May 10, 2012