A pediatrician in Illinois says he's a bit skeptical of a small Texas study reporting a higher risk of cancer from Ritalin. Dr. Nick Yates, a spokesman for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), says there are a number of problems with the researchers' methods and further investigation is warranted.
In the recent study, the findings of which will be released in the publication Cancer Letters, researchers observed that, after only three months, all of the 12 children under study who were treated with Ritalin exhibited a three-fold increase in chromosome abnormalities associated with increased risks of cancer. This first human study linking the most popular drug used to treat attention-deficit problems to a higher risk of cancer is raising alarms among public health advocates and experts.
Yates says among the problems with the Texas study is the fact that it was conducted in a “retrospective” manner. “What that means,” he explains, is that the researchers “went back and looked at the records of children of those who were taking medications Ritalin or something else and then they would ask a question such as 'Did that child have an increased incidence of something else?'”
Furthermore, the pediatrician points out, it is problematic that “the study is very small, and there is no control group.” Still, he acknowledges that the Texas investigators' findings are worthy of concern, and he feels it is a good thing that federal health officials are looking into the study.
Personally, Yates considers Ritalin to be generally safe and effective, despite the risk of possible side effects. All drugs people take involve some danger, he says, “but the risks are not undue risks. And when used properly, medications with the correct diagnosis and the correct medical problem really are useful.”
Yates adds that, even though a drug or treatment may sometimes be associated with a very low risk of something else, “the risk may be worth taking.” Six to ten million Americans, including many children, take Ritalin, which is described as a mild central nervous stimulant.
Novartis Pharmaceuticals Corporation, the company that makes Ritalin, has issued a statement in response to the Texas study, repeating the safety record of the drug, which the company maintains has been used for years without any indication of clinical evidence linking it to the development of cancer in humans.