Follow KDKA-TV: Facebook | Twitter

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — One of the most commonly first prescribed medicines for high blood pressure is hydrochlorothiazide or HCTZ.

“It’s a very inexpensive medication, and is effective for blood pressure,” dermatologist Dr. Brian Horvath of Horvath Dermatology said.

But a study from Denmark, where there is a large national registry of cancers, points to a risk with this medicine for your skin.

“Certain types of squamous cell skin cancer were seven times more common in people who were taking the pill versus people who were not,” Dr. Horvath said.

(Photo Credit: KDKA)

This is different from melanoma, coming from a different layer of the skin. Squamous cell skin cancer is related to sun exposure and has a small potential to spread to other parts of the body.

Why this medicine is linked to an increased risk isn’t clear, but certain factors may contribute.

“This medication makes you sensitive to sunlight,” Dr. Horvath said, “so you sunburn more quickly when you’re on the medication.”

People with skin cancer were compared to people without. Taking HCTZ popped up more commonly among people with squamous cell cancer. This type of study can’t prove cause and effect, but raises caution.

“Previous history of skin cancer, I’d be very concerned about taking this medication,” Dr. Horvath said. “This is a good pill for blood pressure. But there are alternatives.”

If you take this medicine and have no risk factors for skin cancer, no need to change it. But if it’s a concern, you and your primary care doctor may want to consider picking something else.

Dr. Maria Simbra