Viagra User Sues Pfizer After Developing Melanoma

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Viagra User Sues Pfizer After Developing Melanoma
Viagra User Sues Pfizer After Developing Melanoma

Viagra User Sues Pfizer After Developing Melanoma
Viagra User Sues Pfizer After Developing Melanoma

A California man who developed melanoma after years of Viagra use has filed suit against Pfizer for failing to warn Viagra users of the melanoma risk.

The man claims he would never have taken Viagra (sildenafil) if he had been aware of the connection between Viagra and melanoma, Law360 reports. The drug worked to treat his erectile dysfunction, he said, but the melanoma risk far outweighs the benefits. Law360 reports that 13 similar cases have been filed and more than two dozen others are pending across the country.

The man who filed the lawsuit had been taking Viagra for about five years when a large mark on his shoulder was diagnosed as melanoma, the most dangerous form of skin cancer. The National Cancer Institute—part of the National Institutes of Health—explains that melanoma is more likely than other skin cancers to spread to other parts of the body, causing further tissue damage and complicating the potential for effective treatment and eradication of the cancerous cells.

The melanoma was successfully treated but the man continued to take Viagra for at least two more years before he became aware of studies about the melanoma risk published in the Journal of the American Medical Association and other journals. The legal complaint says that despite “significant findings, Pfizer has made no efforts in its ubiquitous Viagra advertisements to warn users about the potential risk of developing melanoma that has been scientifically linked to its drug.”

Viagra works by inhibiting a specific enzyme—phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitor (PDE5)—that can prevent erection. Studies published in 2011, 2012 and 2014 found that blocking the enzyme can trigger the creation of melanoma cells. The most recent study cited in the suit looked at nearly 26,000 men in the United States who take Viagra and found that the melanoma risk for recent users increased by 84 percent, compared with the risk for nonusers. Melanoma is not listed among possible side effects of Viagra.

The California man has needed numerous surgeries for the melanoma. He has had significant medical costs and expects to have more melanoma-related bills in the future. The lawsuit seeks actual and punitive damages from Pfizer and injunctive relief. According to the legal complaint, no man who gets a Viagra prescription “would believe or be expected to know that his use of Viagra would expose him to an increased risk of developing melanoma or exacerbating the growth of melanocytes [skin cancer cells] already present in his body.”

The 2014 JAMA study reported that among 25,848 participants, recent sildenafil users at baseline had a significantly elevated risk of invasive melanoma, with a “hazard ratio” of 1.84. Study participants who had recently used sildenafil exhibited an 84 percent increase in risk of developing or encouraging invasive melanoma.

The lawsuit claims Pfizer “purposefully downplayed, understated and outright ignored the melanoma-related health hazards and risks associated with using Viagra.” Further, the drug maker “deceived potential Viagra users” by relaying positive information through the press, including testimonials from popular political figures, while downplaying known adverse health effects.