WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — A popular heartburn medication for both children and adults is raising concern in the medical community across the world.
Health authorities in the United States and Europe announced they are investigating the drug Zantac and similar medications for links to cancer.
In mid-September, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and even health authorities in Europe announced their decision to review the presence of a carcinogen called N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in medicines containing the drug ranitidine, such as Zantac.
The drug and others like it have helped millions of people with acid reflux and heartburn. It’s been in the market since the early 1980s.
Reports and studies with animals show that NDMA is classified as a probable human carcinogen, potentially over a long period of time.
“Anything that can cause cancer in animals has the potential to cause cancer in humans,” said Dr. K.C. Cohen, a surgical oncologist with Good Samaritan Medical Center in West Palm Beach.
The reports are prompting stores like CVS, Walgreens and Walmart to pull medications with the ingredient off of its shelves, and even entire countries to recall it.
"Zantac brand products and CVS brand ranitidine products have not been recalled, and the FDA is not recommending that patients stop taking ranitidine at this time," the company said in a statement.
Now, local doctors are urging families to talk to their own healthcare providers before making any decisions or changes to their existing medications.
Turns out, NDMA is found in everyday foods and we actually consume it regularly, but in low doses.
“NDMA, the chemical in question, is in a lot of our foods and meats, our cereals and water. It can be [ingested] in low levels. But the level that it’s in Zantac has raised a lot of concerns and questions,” said Dr. Cohen.
Dr. Norina Ocampo, a pediatrician with West Boca Raton Medical Center, said she is getting a few calls from concerned parents over the matter. Zantac is popular to administer to children and babies in liquid form.
“People don’t want to take anything that has a cancer-causing agent in it,” she said. “But even the amounts found in the tablets, the FDA says it barely exceeds the levels we ingest every day in our foods. It’s found naturally in the dirt, our animal proteins, our dairy products, our vegetables, our grains. You’re exposed to it anyway."
She clarified that NDMA is not found in liquid form of Zantac.
“The liquid is safe and if [parents] are still uncomfortable with the whole thing, we can still switch over to another antacid. Pepcid is another one that’s used,” she said.
She added, “The FDA is saying not to worry at this point about stopping your Zantac and that the risk for cancer is exceedingly low, but the problem is we don’t have long term studies at this point.”
NDMA is found in capsule form. That’s why Dr. COhen is urging adult patients not to quit taking Zantac immediately and to try switching to alternatives like Pepcid instead.
“Stopping any sort of indigestion medication suddenly can cause also a rebound acid reflux,” she said.
Bottom line: Talk to your doctor or pediatrician first and see about switching to an alternative or other options for acid reflux conditions.
“It’s just more of a public safety concern at the moment and more studies need to be done before it can be put back on the market,” said Dr. Cohen.