Study Finds Antidepressants, Especially SSRIs, May Increase Risk of Breast and Ovarian Cancer
April 06, 2011
Office of Communications
Researchers from University of Massachusetts Boston and Harvard University, after studying more than 60 articles addressing associations between antidepressants and breast and ovarian cancer, found that the data are mixed: While 33 percent (20 out of 61) of the studies reported a positive association between antidepressants and cancer, 67 percent (41 out of 61) found no association.
Researchers with industry ties, however, were far less likely than researchers without those ties to conclude that antidepressants increase breast or ovarian cancer risk, the study found. In fact, none of the researchers who had industry ties reported positive cancer findings, whereas 43 percent of the researchers without ties reported a positive association.
“Industry-funded research may be more vulnerable to implicit bias,” said Lisa Cosgrove, an associate professor in counseling and social psychology at the University of Massachusetts Boston, residential research lab fellow at Harvard University’s Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics, and principal investigator for this study. “This is not to suggest that researchers intentionally designed biased studies. Currently, industry is not incentivized to design studies that can fully address these questions.
“We need to create firewalls between industry and academic researchers so that researchers are not vulnerable to even the appearance of bias,” she added.
The study’s findings, published in the April 6 issue of PLoS ONE, may have implications on the latest U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) guidelines recommending that women between the ages of 40 and 49 do not need routine screening for breast cancer. The study’s researchers suggest that women between the ages of 40 and 49 who have taken antidepressants, especially low-dose selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), may want to continue to get yearly mammograms.
“For me the main issue is informed consent,” Cosgrove said. “Our findings suggest that non-high risk women who have taken antidepressants may want to consider getting yearly mammograms.”
Also, especially in light of the recent studies that have questioned the efficacy of antidepressants for mild depression, women who are at increased risk for breast cancer may want to first try non-pharmacological interventions, according to Cosgrove.
About the University of Massachusetts Boston
With a growing reputation for innovative research addressing complex issues, the University of Massachusetts Boston, metropolitan Boston’s only public university, offers its diverse student population both an intimate learning environment and the rich experience of a great American city. UMass Boston’s eight colleges and graduate schools serve more than 15,000 students while engaging local, national, and international constituents through academic programs, research centers, and public service activities.