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People’s Pharmacy: Blood pressure medicine raises risk of skin cancer

UPDATED: Wed., April 7, 2021

By Joe Graedon, M.S., </p><p>and Teresa Graedon, Ph.D. King Features Syndicate

Q. I am devastated to learn that the risk of skin cancer can be increased by taking hydrochlorothiazide. I have been on this blood pressure medication since around 2007.

In 2016, I was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, and I needed five surgeries. The left side of my nose was removed. My septum collapsed during surgery, so they had to remove cartilage from my ear to rebuild my septum.

It was truly a nightmare and the most painful thing I have had to go through, and I was scared to death. I am so upset to find out that HCTZ leads to this type of skin cancer. No one ever told me.

A. Squamous cell carcinoma is one of the most common skin cancers with about 700,000 Americans diagnosed every year. It is usually treatable with minor surgery. Your case was obviously much more serious.

Danish researchers found that people taking hydrochlorothiazide were more likely to develop SCC (Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology, April 2018).

More recently, investigators have confirmed the connection between HCTZ and a higher risk of squamous cell skin cancer (British Journal of Dermatology, Feb. 20).

On Aug. 20, the Food and Drug Administration strengthened its warning for people taking HCTZ. The agency urges patients on this blood pressure medicine to “protect their skin from the sun and undergo regular skin cancer screenings.”

Physicians should be alerting patients to this potential complication.

Q. I have taken Armour Thyroid for 15 years. Prior to that, I struggled desperately with clinical depression. Besides that, I couldn’t lose excess weight.

Two weeks after starting Armour, my depression lifted. I lost 30 pounds over a couple of months with no change in diet.

It was a struggle to get and stay on Armour over the years, as physicians resisted natural medicine. I do not want to go back to being so depressed. I view that as life-threatening.

I feel as if hypothyroidism is not taken very seriously. When I was diagnosed, I received a phone call with directions: “Get this Rx and take it for the rest of your life.” The physician’s office did not offer me any chance to discuss this chronic condition; just pop a pill and go away.

A. Levothyroxine (Euthyrox, Levothroid, Synthroid, Tirosint) is the standard treatment for people whose thyroid glands do not produce enough hormone. In most cases, people convert this hormone to the active form (T3) pretty well. But we have been hearing for years from readers who say they don’t feel good on levothyroxine alone.

Now, research corroborates their reports. Scientists presented findings from a randomized controlled trial at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society. In their research, 75 people took levothyroxine, combination therapy or desiccated thyroid extract (like Armour) for three months each. Nearly half of them preferred the natural thyroid gland extract.

You can learn more about the diagnosis and treatment of hypothyroidism in our eGuide to Thyroid Hormones. This online resource is found in the Health eGuides section at peoplespharmacy.com.

Q. For years, I have taken Zovirax or Valtrex to stop fever blisters. If I take either one when I first notice the irritation, it stops the fever blister right then. Amazing! I thought your readers would like to know.

A. Acyclovir (Zovirax) was one of the first antiviral drugs developed by the pharmaceutical industry. It was followed by valacyclovir (Valtrex). Both compounds can effectively stop herpes simplex 1 outbreaks (cold sores) if taken at the first sign of a lesion.

In their column, Joe and Teresa Graedon answer letters from readers. Write to them in care of King Features, 628 Virginia Drive, Orlando, FL 32803, or email them via their website peoplespharmacy.com.

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