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Long-term users of nonaspirin nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) may have an increased risk of developing renal cell (kidney) cancer. These findings were recently reported in the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs are used to reduce inflammation and pain; they include drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen. Some studies have suggested that NSAIDs may reduce the risk of certain types of cancer, such as colorectal cancer, breast cancer, and prostate cancer. When it comes to kidney cancer, however, some data have shown that NSAIDs may increase rather than reduce risk.

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To further investigate the link between NSAID use and kidney cancer, researchers tracked aspirin, nonaspirin NSAID, and acetaminophen (also a pain reliever) use among 77,525 women and 49,403 men participating in the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study. Data were collected beginning in1990 for the Nurses’ Health Study and in 1986 for the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study and again every two years through follow-up at 16 and 20 years, respectively.

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  • 333 cases of kidney cancer were diagnosed among participants in both studies combined.
  • Regular use of nonaspirin NSAIDs appeared to increase risk of kidney cancer, with an increase in relative risk of 51%.
  • Regular use of aspirin and acetaminophen did not appear to increase risk of kidney cancer.
  • Longer use of nonaspirin NSAIDs was associated with increasing risk of kidney cancer: Use for less than four years was associated with a 19% decreased relative risk of developing kidney cancer, whereas use from four to 10 years was associated with a 36% increased relative risk and use for 10 years or more with an almost threefold increase in relative risk.

The researchers conclude that because regular use of nonaspirin NSAIDs may increase risk of developing kidney cancer, “Risks and benefits should be considered in deciding whether to use [pain relievers].” Regular nonaspirin NSAID users may want to be especially aware of the risks and benefits, given the increased risk associated with long-term use.

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Reference: Cho E, Curhan G, Hankinson SE, et al. Prospective evaluation of analgesic use and risk of renal cell cancer. Archives of Internal Medicine. 2011;171(16):1487-1493. doi:10.1001/archinternmed.2011.356.