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More drugs recalled due to cancer-causing substances

The Food and Drug Administration [FDA] has announced recalls of a number of a growing number of medications used to treat high blood pressure over the past several months, due to the discovery of possible cancer-causing impurities in them. These commonly prescribed medicines include the blood pressure drugs valsartan, losartan, and irbesartan in different combinations and from different manufacturers. 

In September, both prescription and generic versions of the heartburn drug ranitidine, which is sold under the brand name Zantac, were added to the list of recalled drugs for the same reason. As of Oct. 1, major drugstore chains including CVS and Walgreens had pulled Zantac and other generic brands of ranitidine from their shelves as a precautionary measure.

In each case, the recalled drugs were found to be contaminated with one of three types of chemicals known as NDMA, NDEA or NMBA. These substances are believed to cause cancer in humans after long-term exposure at high levels, although the FDA has noted that the drugs analyzed to date have been contaminated with small amounts of these substances.

The FDA has potentially traced the presence of these chemicals to two drug manufacturing facilities located in China and India.

Ranitidine belongs to the class of drugs known as H2 [histamine-2] blockers. The FDA is not currently calling for people to stop taking the drug, and is continuing to test ranitidine products from multiple manufacturers. Based on information currently available, there is no evidence that other types of H2 blockers, which include famotidine [Pepcid], cimetidine [Tagamet] and nizatidine [Axid] contain any dangerous substances.  

The FDA has advised patients taking any of the recalled blood pressure drugs to continue doing so until their doctor or pharmacist provides a replacement, because stopping these medications can be hazardous. Not all manufacturers and lot numbers of the drugs are affected. Up-to-date information about the recalls is available by visiting and searching “list of recalled Angiotensin-II Receptor Blockers [ARBs] including Valsartan, Losartan and Irbesartan.”

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