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Last updated on April 19, 2014 at 21:20 EDT

Acne Cream Ingredient Causes Death?

January 20, 2009

Patients who use creams with an ingredient commonly used to treat acne are more likely to die than those who don’t, a new study reveals.

The Veterans Affairs Topical Tretinoin Chemoprevention (VATTC) Trial began in 1998 to test whether high-dose therapy with a cream containing the retinoid tretinoin, could prevent cancer. 1,131 veterans, mostly men over age 70, were randomly assigned to apply either a cream containing 0.1 percent tretinoin or an unmedicated cream daily to their face and ears. They were then examined by a dermatologist every six months.

The trial was stopped six months early in May 2004 after a preliminary report revealed an increase in the number of deaths among study participants in the group using tretinoin. After looking into other factors that might increase the risk of death, including smoking, age and co-occurring illnesses, there was still a significantly higher risk of death in the treatment group. However, further analysis did not support tretinoin as a cause of the fatalities.

“The biological implausibility, lack of specificity of causes of death, inconsistency with previous experience, weakness of other supportive evidence in our data and weak statistical signal cast doubt on a potential causal association of topical tretinoin with death in the VATTC Trial,” study authors wrote. “We do not conclude that this trial provides appropriate grounds for hesitating to use topical tretinoin in clinical practice in the absence of additional evidence.”

SOURCE: Archives of Dermatology, 2009;145[1]:18-24

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