DNC News

Antidepressants (SSRIs) may increase breast cancer risks:

35th Annual Meeting of the Society for Epidemiologic Research Seattle, June 2000

Popular antidepressant drugs known as selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be associated with an increased risk of breast cancer, according to a case-controlled study involving more than 5,000 women, aged 25-74.

A previous study from the same authors, published earlier this year (May 15 - American Journal of Epidemiology), showed that women taking paroxetine (Paxil) had a sevenfold increased risk of breast cancer. Women taking tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) were found to have about twice the risk. In this most recent study, Paxil was associated with an increased risk of 70%, much lower than the sevenfold increase previously found, but still significant enough to cause serious concern. Other SSRIs were also found to increase risk, although not by as much. According to researchers, physicians should at least be aware that there may be some association and prescribe a drug other than paroxetine. Interestingly, Paxil had only been on the market for 2 to 3 years before the breast cancer cases were diagnosed.

Comments from Dr. Mercola:
And we are told that these drugs are completely safe and virtually without side effects. NEVER, EVER forget that drugs prescribed by physicians are the fifth leading cause of death in this country .

If Paxil can cause such a significant increase in breast cancer rates after only 2-3 years on the market, imagine how much more damage may be done with really long-term use.

Comments from Dr. Schor:
The decision to treat and how to treat depression is not simple. There are many who feel that mild to moderate depression should not be treated, that it is part of life's ups and downs. To experience depression is part of life, people grow emotionally from the experience, so leave them alone to work through it is one sentiment that I have heard. Another similar sentiment is that this is a symptom of underlying emotional issues that need to be addressed and resolved, either alone or with professional counseling.

On the other hand there are clearly situations where no treatment would be absurd. Some depressions are so clearly physiological that no amount of processing or counseling will ever make a difference. There are few things more distressing than to hear a patient's story of years of depression and counseling when the actual diagnosis is hypothyroidism. Others are less clear, though biochemical changes, dietary changes, nutritional supplements make a world of difference. To treat or not to treat is always complicated and I've not seen a set of rules that works in all situations. It needs to be decided with each individual, weighing in all their emotional, physical, spiritual concerns.

How to treat depression is just as tricky a decision. The common prescription medicines used all seem to have their downsides. Mercola's article is just one more of many that adds concern to prescription antidepressant useage.

The list of "natural antidepressants" of course keeps growing. There are some which have a clear pharmacological basis such as dl-phenylalanine, 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). and SAMe. Then there is the herbal extract of St John's Wort (Hypericum), which we still don't understand exactly how it works. Research continues to be published its effectiveness in treating depression. On rare occasions hypericum will create a sun sensitivity, but very rarely.

On the bright side with St John's Wort, it doesn't appear we need to worry about increasing cancer rates through it's use. In fact the opposite may occur.

Hypericin, a component of St. John's Wort, has produced potent anttumor activity in vitro against several tumor types.[Kil KS, Yum YN, Seo SH, Lee KT. Antitumor activities of hypericin as a protein kinase blocker. Archives of Pharmacal Research 1996; 19(6):490-496]

It did not show any toxic effect on normal cells even at higher concentrations. Concentrations of 0.3 micromoles were effective against human colon and stomach cancer cell lines and mouse leukemia cell lines. Pharmokinetic experiments on Hypericum suggest a dose of 11.25 mg of Hypericin give a maximum plasma concentration four hours later of 0.3 micromoles. This equals about four 300 mg. capsules of 0.3% hypericin.[ Brockmoller J, Reum T, Bauer S, Kerb R, Hubner WD, Roots I. Hypericin and pseudohypericin: Pharmacokinetics and effects on photosensitivity in humans. Pharmacopsychiatry 1997;30(suppl.):94-101]

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