IS THERE A LINK BETWEEN VIAGRA AND MELANOMA INCIDENCE RATES?

Viagra (trade name sildenafil), has been one of Pfizers’s best-selling drugs for many years and has demonstrated effectiveness in treating erectile dysfunction (ED). In fact, it has become so well-known among consumers that it is now used recreationally among many young adults, even though there is no evidence that men without ED can benefit from its use at all.

Originally approved for the treatment of ED in 1998, sildenafil has come under fire several times for its serious, often permanent side effects. This fear has been raised again as a recent study has demonstrated a much higher risk of developing melanoma, a deadly skin cancer, after prolonged sildenafil use.

HOW WAS THE LINK BETWEEN VIAGRA AND MELANOMA DETERMINED?

A long-term cohort study was enacted in 2000 to verify whether or not sildenafil would put people at risk of skin cancer. A cohort study finds a lot of people with a shared attribute (in this case, sildenafil use), and follows them for many years, checking on them periodically to gauge any effects of the drug. Patients who already had some form of cancer in 2000 were excluded from the study. The sildenafil study results, published by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), were finally released in June 2014 after studying more than 25,000 people taking the medication.

The study’s results are alarming. It found that people who took sildenafil regularly were 84 percent more likely to develop serious skin cancers, a risk increase that is truly staggering in the medical field. Moreover, the researchers eliminated erectile function itself as a likely cause of increased cancer, showing that even patients who received little benefit from the medication were still at an increased risk.

WHY SHOULD PATIENTS WORRY ABOUT VIAGRA USE AND MELANOMA RISKS?

Melanoma is considered to be the deadliest of all skin cancers, causing more deaths than any other type of skin cancer. It is extremely aggressive and requires medical treatment that is just as aggressive. This is expensive and debilitating, often leaving a patient without the ability to work or take care of their daily needs.

The big picture is also worrisome because sildenafil is being used for more and more conditions, and the FDA is complicit in expanding its accepted functions. In addition to ED, sildenafil is now approved for use to aid in some forms of pulmonary hypertension and altitude sickness. Even athletes are abusing the medication in an attempt to improve blood flow to muscles. Its expanding use means that there will likely be a large number of related skin cancer cases in the near future.

WHAT IS THE STATUS OF LAWSUITS FILED AGAINST PFIZER?

Pfizer has already faced several waves of litigation due to safety issues with sildenafil. The first group of suits concerned loss of blood pressure and cardiac events. Then the drug was found to cause vision or hearing loss, which could be permanent in some cases.

In light of the JAMA’s recent study, there are already hundreds of suits forming around the country, so Pfizer is already preparing for another round of settlements.