Change the channel

I can’t tell you why this news is only making headlines now. It’s something that most of us in the complementary medical field have known for quite some time. And I hope it doesn’t surprise any of you, either.

But in any case, this is important information that you are going to want to share with your friends and family members.

Recently published research shows that long-term use of a popular class of blood pressure medications called calcium-channel blockers is linked to higher breast cancer risk.

And by higher, I mean more than double.

This is the first observational, long-term study of its kind. And it looked at the effects of a long list of blood pressure drugs–including ACE inhibitors, angiotensin-receptor blockers, beta blockers, calcium-channel blockers, diuretics, and combo preparations. Subjects were all postmenopausal women between 55 and 74 years old.

Results revealed that women taking calcium-channel blockers for a decade or longer faced more than two times the typical risk of two types of invasive breast cancer–both ductal and lobular. (Incidentally, the researchers also noted a possible link between long-term ACE inhibitor use and a lower risk of these types of cancer.)

Now here’s the real kicker of this whole thing: Calcium-channel blockers also happen to be the most heavily prescribed drugs in the U.S. In fact, they accounted for close to 15 percent of all 678 million prescriptions filled in 2010.

That’s an absolutely staggering number. One that shocked even me, to tell you the truth.

I guess we know how those Big Pharma execs can afford to fly around in their own private jets now, don’t we? And somehow, I doubt they give much thought to how many people they hurt in order to pay for this luxury.

So I urge you–if you’re taking a calcium-channel blocker, go see your doctor immediately. (If you’re not sure what type of blood pressure medication you’re on, any drug ending in “dipine” is likely a member of this class.) And insist on being switched to a different medication.

I’m giving you this very urgent advice because the lead author of this paper won’t. More than likely because he wants his grant money to keep flowing.

And that means he has to toe the party line. Which involves explaining to you that he can’t make clinical recommendations based on observational studies, because correlation doesn’t equal causality, and so on and so forth.

To which I say, SO WHAT? If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck…

We’ve been down eerily similar roads with prescription drugs before. And failing to take some kind of action in this situation would be criminally negligent, in my professional opinion.

Why? Because even though this study only suggests an “association,” it’s not as if there’s only one type of blood pressure medication available to patients.

There are many classes of antihypertensives out there. Ones that don’t have questionable links to breast cancer. And with this disease affecting one in every eight women in this country, you’d better believe that I’m going to offer one of those drugs instead.

(Well, I would suggest diet, lifestyle changes, and nutritional supplements first. But I digress here.)

I will leave you with a quote from a published commentary on these findings. Because frankly, it’s pretty startling:

“If the 2- to 3-fold increase in risk found in this study is confirmed, long-term calcium-channel blocker use would [emerge] as one of the major modifiable risk factors for breast cancer.”

Which brings us to the real question here: How many more women have to die before doctors take a second look at their prescription pads?

“Use of Antihypertensive Medications and Breast Cancer Risk Among Women Aged 55 to 74 Years.” JAMA Intern Med. 2013 Aug 5.