Cancer Warnings

Do Psychiatric Drugs Cause Cancer?

A psychotropic refers to any drug that affects behavior, mood, thoughts, or perception. It’s an umbrella term for a lot of different drugs, including prescription drugs and commonly misused drugs. Psychotropic drugs are prescribed to treat a variety of mental health issues when those issues cause significant impairment to healthy functioning.

Psychotropic drugs typically work by changing or balancing the amount of important chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters. Some mental health issues show improvement when neurotransmitters such as dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are increased or decreased. Psychotropic drugs are usually prescribed by a psychiatrist, a psychiatric nurse practitioner (PMHNP), or a primary care physician; in some areas, clinical psychologists may have prescriptive privileges as well.

One in four individuals, or about 25% of the population, will experience a mental health issue at some point in their lives, according to the World Health Organization. Depression and anxiety are among the most common issues, and these issues can affect people regardless of age, gender, ethnicity, or background. Researchers cannot say with certainty what causes most instances of mental health impairment. Environmental factors and genetics often combine to predispose someone to a particular problem. In other cases, traumatic events or serious injuries result in psychological symptoms that persist for years.

Some individuals feel that psychotropic drugs are often not enough by themselves to help someone overcome a mental health issue, and many healthcare providers recommend that an individual use them as a supplement to therapy, not as a replacement for therapy. Social support from family and friends, structured therapy, lifestyle changes, and other treatment protocols can all be important factors in the recovery process. Severe mental health issues may require inpatient rehabilitation before the person experiencing them can return to everyday life.

Certain individuals who are prescribed psychiatric medications may prefer not to take them, or they find that these medications do not improve their symptoms enough to outweigh any side effects or risks. The Freedom Center’s Harm Reduction Guide for Coming off Psychiatric Drugs, a 40-page guide written by Will Hall and published by The Icarus Project and Freedom Center, offers information about reducing or stopping psychiatric medications. The guide is not meant to instruct anyone to stop taking psychiatric medications, but rather, it aims to educate consumers about their options if they decide to explore going off psychotropic medications.

Does Psychiatric Drugs Cause Cancer

Does psychiatric drugs cause cancer?

The widespread use of psychiatric drugs is justified by the idea that they work by correcting, or helping to correct, underlying biological abnormalities that produce particular psychiatric symptoms.

Countless number of people take psychiatric medications on a daily basis, but little is known about long-term effects, as insufficient data on post-marketing is often the norm. Among other health concerns, it is unclear whether certain psychiatric drugs increase cancer risk.

Below are some psychiatric medications that have been linked to cancer according to research:

Fluoxetine and paroxetine

Both of these selective-serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) have been linked to testicular cancer by the researchers. Antidepressants including selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as fluoxetine have been evaluated in laboratory experiments and epidemiologic studies with mixed results, including some findings of possible prevention.


Nortriptyline is a tricyclic antidepressant and the active metabolite of amitriptyline. It is indicated for major depression and used off-label for chronic pain and other conditions. With respect to esophageal cancer, the researchers observed 12 cases related to nortriptyline use. With respect to liver cancer, they noted 19 cases. According to studies, tricyclic antidepressants have been hypothesized as carcinogenic, but results from empiric and observational research on the topic have been mixed, some studies showed preventive effects on cancer.


This intermediate-acting benzodiazepine is slowly transformed in the body after absorption and it is therefore less likely to undergo pharmacokinetic reactions, making it ideal for use in the elderly or those with liver disease. This drug is used for treatment of alcohol withdrawal and anxiety disorders. Like other benzodiazepines, toxicity is related to central nervous system depression. Researchers found that oxazepam use was tied to 117 cases of lung cancer but results could be confounded by smoking.


Dr. Oche Otorkpa PG Cert, MPH, PhD

Dr. Oche is a seasoned Public Health specialist who holds a post graduate certificate in Pharmacology and Therapeutics, an MPH, and a PhD both from Texila American University. He is a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK. He authored two books: "The Unseen Terrorist," published by AuthorHouse UK, and "The Night Before I Killed Addiction."
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