Methylphenidate (Ritalin®, Novartis) has been the most popular drug for treating attention-deficit problems for more than 50 years, but a small study has linked its use with a higher risk of cancer.
Texas researchers found that after only three months, 12 treated children had a three-fold increase in chromosome abnormalities associated with increased cancer risk.
Novartis has emphasized the safety record of the drug, which has shown no clinical evidence of a link to the development of cancer in humans. A mild central nervous system stimulant, it is the most widely prescribed drug for treating attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
In 1996, two-year animal studies that showed that high levels of methyl-phenidate caused liver tumors in male and female mice; studies of rats, however, did not show these results. The FDA concluded those findings were not sufficient to have children discontinue therapy.
Canada recently pulled the amphetamine/mixed salts medication Adderall® XR from the market after Shire provided information about 20 patient deaths, and the FDA has linked atomoxetine (Strat-tera®, Eli Lilly), a nonstimulant ADHD medication, with liver damage.
Medical experts say that until more is known, parents should not be overly frightened of giving methylphenidate to their children. Larger studies are needed to confirm these findings.