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Skin cancer from blood pressure drugs

A disturbing (at least to me) study published last year (but one which I was just reminded of again recently) in the Journal of American Dermatology concluded that people – like me, alas – who use a very popular blood pressure-lowering drug called hydrochlorothiazide (HCT) are significantly more likely than people who don’t use that drug to develop a common form of skin cancer known as squamous cell carcinoma (SCC).

And just to put a fine line under this conclusion, using other forms of BP-lowering drugs does not increase the risk of SCC, so that link is specific to this medication, probably because HCT is known to increase photosensitivity, which means reacting to sun exposure.

And to underline the probability that this is a real drug effect, this study also concluded that the longer one takes HCT and the higher the dose, the greater the risk of SCC.

Now, happily, SCC is usually quite treatable although sometimes the treatment can cause cosmetic damage, and a a few cases do metastasize so this cancer has to be carefully watched at the very least.

So if you’re taking HCT, is this enough of a concern to ask for a different BP medication, given that there are dozens of others out there?

The frustrating answer is – as always – no one really knows.

On the one hand, no one wants to develop SCC.

On the ever-present other hand, when HCT does work to lower BP, as it has in my case, it’s a very easy drug to tolerate, and one that’s not generally related to many side effects (aside from its frustrating diuretic effect which makes all long-distance drives a constant hunt for rest stops, preferably ones with clean bathrooms).

So what have I done with this news?

Nothing.

That’s because although I love the sun, I also love the fact that HCT is so effective and seems to be easy to tolerate (aside from those too-frequent visits to washrooms I hope to never see again), so I have stayed on HCT.

That’s my choice.

What you should do is discuss this with your doctor and see what advice he/she has for your particular situation.