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Regular Tylenol Use May Increase Blood Cancer Risk

May 12, 2011 | Parker Waichman LLP

Older people who take Tylenol or other forms of acetaminophen  on a regular basis may want to rethink their choice of painkiller.  A new study finds the popular drug may increase the risk of certain blood cancers.

The study was conducted by researchers at Washington State University.  They looked at data on 64,839 men and women aged 50 to 76, who took part in the Vitamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) study. Over the six years they were followed, 577 developed blood cancer.

Those who used acetaminophen at least four days a week over four years faced a twofold increased risk for some blood cancers, including myeloid neoplasms, non-Hodgkin lymphomas and plasma cell disorders. At the same time, however, this group did not face an increased risk of chronic lymphocytic leukemia/small lymphocytic lymphoma.

Of the participants who did not become ill, only five percent were regular Tylenol users.

Other painkillers - aspirin, other NSAIDs or ibuprofen - did not show the same risk.

According to lead author Emily White, “A person who is age 50 or older has about a 1 percent risk in ten years of getting one of these cancers. Our study suggests that if you use acetaminophen at least four times a week for at least four years, that would increase the risk to about two percent.”

The study team pointed out that animal studies have linked acetaminophen to toxic effects on bone marrow.  They surmised that this could be behind the greater risk for blood cancers with long-term use of acetaminophen.

The results need to be confirmed by further research, and do not constitute proof that acetaminophen causes blood cancer, the authors cautioned.

The study  was published in the May 9 online edition of the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

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