Has anyone developed cancer from taking Zantac?

Widely used medicine for heartburn under suspicion of cancer

Medicines taken worldwide to treat too much stomach acid are said to break down into carcinogenic nitrosamine

Last Tuesday, the Swiss drug authority Swissmedic initiated a recall for three products that are prescribed for heartburn and to prevent stomach ulcers. The supervisors found small amounts of nitrosamine in the medicines. Nitrosamine is suspected of being carcinogenic.

In Switzerland there are only three drugs on offer with the active ingredient ranitidine, which has been marketed for 40 years. Nevertheless, around 8,000 patients in this country took one of them in 2018, estimates Mepha, one of the recalling companies alongside Sandoz and Glaxosmithkline.

The products run under the names Ranimed, Ranitidin-Mepha and Zantic or Zantac in the USA. Sandoz has stopped selling the product worldwide.

Swissmedic reacted faster and more decisively than its counterparts in the EU and the USA. The US FDA ruled that a recall was inappropriate. Further analyzes are still necessary.

Massively higher values

For the online pharmacy Valisure, this attitude is completely incomprehensible. She set off the alarm. The company with its own laboratories tests its range extensively for impurities and registered extreme excesses of the limit values. "The active ingredient itself breaks down into nitrosamine at body temperature in the stomach with its strong acids," explains Valisure boss David Light on request.

They measure a concentration of 300,000 ng nitrosamine per tablet. The FDA accepts a maximum of 96 ng as a daily dose. Light points out that Valisure is not alone in his analysis. Scientists from the elite Stanford University achieved around 400,000 ng per tablet under the same conditions. The problem is not contamination of the active ingredient with nitrosamine. This case occurred last year with a class of antihypertensive drugs.

Rather, the active ingredient in the gastric acid blocker itself is "unstable". Light explains the discrepancy between the findings of the authorities and his own laboratory as follows: "The test conditions determine the result."

Swissmedic explains that it has not yet analyzed the Valisure results in detail and is sticking to its own results, but also writes: “Further clarifications are necessary. Patients who have been prescribed one of the drugs are encouraged to contact their doctors to discuss switching treatment. "

Still common

According to Light, the renowned US cancer research hospital Memorial Sloan Kettering is now investigating whether there is a connection between their illness and the frequent use of drugs containing ranitidine in patients.

The remedies came onto the market in the 1980s and were among the most widely prescribed drugs in the world for decades. As recently as 2016, doctors in the USA issued 15 million prescriptions. They are also available there in a mild version without a prescription.

If Valisure's analyzes were confirmed, millions of people would have taken cancer-causing drugs for years. It would be a very serious accident in an industry that is not poor in accidents.