Does Zantac Cause Cancer?

Zantac is the brand name of a medication used to treat heartburn and related digestive issues caused by excess stomach acid such as gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). It also goes by the generic name of ranitidine. You may have purchased ranitidine products as Nexium, Prevacid, Omeprazole, Tagamet, Prilosec, Pepcid, or another alternative name all referring to the same family of histamine blockers.

The primary ingredient in ranitidine medicines is n-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), which the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) labeled a probable human carcinogen in 2019. Some drug manufacturers voluntarily pulled lots of prescription ranitidine and OTC ranitidine from store shelves late last year. Navartis and Apotex were the first pharmaceutical companies to take that action.

On April 1, 2020, the FDA issued a voluntary recall for Walgreens, Rite Aid, CVS, Walmart, and other retailers that sell Zantac products to discontinue doing so. The FDA took this action out of an abundance of caution due to the possible link between NDMA and certain types of cancer.

People who took high doses of NDMA or took heartburn medication for many years are at greatest risk of later developing cancer. In its recall announcement, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requested drug manufacturers to recall their products if the NDMA exceeded the acceptable daily intake amount of 96 nanograms.

Both the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and National Toxicology Program agree that the classification of NDMA as a probable human carcinogen are accurate. NDMA is also a primary ingredient in some medications used to treat high blood pressure.

Understanding NDMA and Its Role as a Probable Human Carcinogen

Zantac and all ranitidine products have been on the market since 1984. However, the FDA reported no problems with these heartburn and acid reflux drugs until last year. The current theory by the FDA is that ranitidine is an unstable ingredient that breaks down on its own over time. It can also react negatively when exposed to any temperature above room temperature.

High amounts of NDMA appeared in FDA studies that simulated the digestion process by mixing ranitidine with sodium nitrates and gastric fluid. Another possible explanation for NDMA contamination in the generic versions of Zantac is that other countries may have manufactured them that don’t have as strict of quality measures for prescription and OTC drugs as the United States.

Types of Cancer Most Often Associated with Ranitidine Medications

According to research conducted by the two agencies listed above, the following types of cancer are most common in people who have consumed high amounts of NDMA in ranitidine products or who have taken heartburn medication for a long time.

  • Bladder cancer
  • Brain cancer
  • Breast cancer
  • Cancer of the small and large intestines
  • Colorectal cancer
  • Esophageal cancer
  • Intestinal cancer
  • Islet cell tumors
  • Kidney cancer
  • Leukemia
  • Liver cancer
  • Multiple myeloma
  • Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Stomach cancer

It is important to understand that several common foods contain low levels of NDMA. Some common examples include fruits, vegetables, and cheese along with alcohol and tobacco. To date, no medical researcher has made a positive connection between the NDMA in common foods with an increased risk of cancer. The biggest determining factors for developing cancer after taking Zantac or its generics appear to be whether the prescription or over-the-counter medication had unacceptable levels of NDMA, whether the person took ranitidine drugs for a long period, and their other underlying health conditions and risk factors.

Symptoms That Could Indicate Cancer Caused by Ranitidine Products

While every type of cancer has its own symptoms, some symptoms are universal enough to occur with nearly all types of cancer. We recommend that you schedule an appointment with your regular doctor for testing if you develop any of these symptoms:

  • Abdominal pain not associated with heartburn
  • Back pain
  • Blood in stools or tar-like stools that could come from intestinal bleeding
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • General weakness
  • Incontinence
  • Losing weight without trying
  • Nausea
  • Poor appetite
  • Skin itchiness
  • Urinary urgency
  • Vomiting
  • Yellow skin or eyes