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Can blood pressure medication increase your skin cancer risk?

Link between blood pressure medication and risk of skin cancer

A few studies have found a link between taking some blood pressure medications and an increased risk of developing skin cancer.

Senior woman looking at prescription bottles

News that taking blood pressure medication may increase your risk of developing skin cancer can be concerning if you’ve had skin cancer. Anyone who’s had skin cancer has a higher risk of developing another one. If you’re wondering whether to toss your blood pressure medication to reduce your risk, here’s what dermatologists recommend:

  1. Continue taking your medication until you can talk with the doctor who prescribed it. Taking a blood pressure medication for a few more days or weeks won’t dramatically increase your risk of getting skin cancer. If you immediately stop taking the medication, your blood pressure may rise quickly. For some people, that rise could increase their risk of having a heart attack or stroke.

  2. Tell the doctor who prescribed the medication about your concerns. Explaining why you’re concerned can help your doctor assess your risk. Be sure to tell your doctor that you’ve had skin cancer. Also tell your doctor if you:

    • Know of blood relatives who had skin cancer
    • Spend a lot of time outdoors
    • Take any other medication
    Any one of these could dramatically increase your risk of developing skin cancer.

  3. Understand that only one type of blood pressure medication has been linked to an increased risk of developing skin cancer. In studies, only the blood pressure medications that contain hydrochlorothiazide have been linked to an increased risk of skin cancer. Researchers speculate this happens because hydrochlorothiazide makes the skin more sensitive to the sun.

    Today, there are several blood pressure medications that do not contain hydrochlorothiazide.

  4. Realize that more research is needed. The current findings came from Danish studies. The researchers reached their conclusion by looking at Danish medical records. Because the researchers discovered this by looking at medical records, they don’t know whether the patients had other risk factors for skin cancer. It could be that the patients who developed skin cancer never protected their skin from the sun. It’s possible they used tanning beds.

    As such, the researchers continue to conduct studies that can shed more light on this finding.

  5. Follow these proven strategies to reduce your risk of getting another skin cancer. Science has shown us that it’s possible to reduce your risk of getting skin cancer by:

    • Protecting your skin from the sun. Many skin cancers could be prevented if people would protect their skin from the sun. Even if you have a higher risk of developing skin cancer, sun protection can reduce your risk.
    • Forgetting about using a tanning bed or sun lamp. Using a tanning bed or sun lamp just once dramatically increases your risk of developing skin cancer. The evidence for this is so strong that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) requires warning labels on these tanning devices.
    • Examining your skin for signs of skin cancer as often as your dermatologist recommends. Many skin cancers are found when people examine their own skin and notice that something has changed. This helps to find skin cancer early when it’s most treatable. For this reason, dermatologists encourage everyone to learn how to do a skin self-exam.

  6. Keep your dermatology appointments. If you have a higher risk of getting skin cancer, you want to see a board-certified dermatologist. These doctors are the skin cancer specialists. Your dermatologist will tell you how often you should return for exams. Be sure to keep all of these appointments.

Controlling blood pressure good for your health, too

High blood pressure can harm your body. Controlling high blood pressure helps to prevent a stroke, heart attack, and kidney failure. By teaming up with your primary care doctor and a board-certified dermatologist, you can manage both your blood pressure and reduce your risk of getting another skin cancer.

If you need a dermatologist, go to: Find a dermatologist

Getty Images

American Academy of Dermatology. Indoor tanning fact sheet. Last accessed March 28, 2018.

Pedersen SA, Gaist D, et al. “Hydrochlorothiazide use and risk of non-melanoma skin cancer: A nationwide case-control study from Denmark.” J Am Acad Dermatol. 2018; 78(4):673-81.