Possible SSRI-Cancer Link?

Researchers Speculate that SSRIs Like Prozac May Increase Cancer Risk

SSRIs and Cancer Link
Christian Johnson/freeimages.com

Antidepressants in the class called SSRIs (Prozac, Luvox, Paxil, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro) could potentially increase the risk for brain cancer, according to a 2002 report in the journal Blood.

Professor John Gordon of Birmingham University found that SSRIs encouraged the growth of Burkitt's lymphoma, a type of cancer which affects the lymphatic system, in test-tube experiments. It is speculated that if they can affect the growth of this type of cancer they might also affect brain cancers in a similar way.

The mechanism of action for this increased risk is by blocking the body's natural ability to kill tumor cells. Gordon, whose results have been published online in the journal Blood, says that serotonin is a key player in stimulating apoptosis, a natural programmed cell death which brings into control runaway cell growth. Without this process to rein in these renegade cells, cancer may develop.

It is not known if these data can be extrapolated to mean that humans are at increased risk of developing cancer. Thus far, no SSRI-cancer link has been observed in clinical practice and drug company officials speculate that the high dose used in Gordon's experiment may not provide a reliable indicator of what happens in the patient.

The specific drugs investigated by Gordon were Prozac, Paxil, and Celexa.

Was this page helpful?

Article Sources

Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial policy to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  • Adamantios Serafeim, Gillian Grafton, Anita Chamba, Christopher D. Gregory, Randy D. Blakely, Norman G. Bowery, Nicholas M. Barnes, and John Gordon. "5-Hydroxytryptamine drives apoptosis in biopsylike Burkitt lymphoma cells: reversal by selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors." Blood 2002 99: 2545-2553.