Zantac (Ranitidine) and Cancer: History and Developments

The discovery that Zantac (ranitidine) might be linked to cancer has kicked off massive litigation.

By , J.D., Villanova University School of Law
Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney (UC Law San Francisco)

Updated July 5, 2023

Millions of people have taken Zantac (or its generic form, "ranitidine") to treat conditions like acid reflux, ulcers, and the occasional bout of heartburn. Zantac was one of the best-selling medications of all time. For decades, doctors and users viewed Zantac as an extremely safe medication—safe enough for people to take daily for years and even during pregnancy. Then testing revealed a potential link between the use of ranitidine products and developing cancer.

Let's take a look at health concerns related to Zantac and ranitidine and the current state of litigation involving this widely used medication.

Why Are People Filing Zantac Lawsuits?

  • In September 2019, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) announced that it had identified NDMA (a substance that can cause cancer) in ranitidine products, including Zantac.
  • As a result, people all over the country (the "plaintiffs") quickly filed scores of civil lawsuits against the companies who made and sold ranitidine products (the "defendants") in state and federal courts.
  • In February 2020, all Zantac lawsuits filed in federal court were consolidated in "multidistrict litigation" (MDL) in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida (In Re: Zantac (Ranitidine) Products Liability Litigation).
  • In April 2020, the FDA requested that manufacturers and retailers remove all ranitidine products from the market.
  • In December 2022, U.S. District Judge Robin Rosenberg dismissed around 50,000 federal Zantac-related claims, saying the plaintiffs' experts failed to use reliable methods to link Zantac with cancer.
  • The plaintiffs in the federal MDL plan to appeal Judge Rosenberg's decision. The appeal could go on for years.
  • The first state Zantac trial was set to begin in California in July 2023. The case was highly anticipated as the first test of how a jury might respond to a Zantac cancer claim, but the parties reached a confidential settlement in late June 2023. The next Zantac trial is slated to begin in November 2023 in California.
  • More than 77,000 people have filed Zantac-related lawsuits in Delaware state court.

Does Zantac Cause Cancer?

In September 2019, Valisure, an independent laboratory, conducted tests of commonly-available medications containing ranitidine. The company found that taking these medications could cause high levels of N-Nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA) in the body. NDMA is a substance that the FDA treats as a "probable carcinogen" (a substance that causes cancer).

NDMA is probably safe to consume in small amounts. Foods such as cured meats, beer, fish, cheese, and even vegetables may contain NDMA. But higher exposures over time may increase cancer risk, and sudden exposure to large quantities can be toxic.

The FDA's testing confirmed the presence of NDMA in ranitidine products. Initially, the FDA said the levels of NDMA in ranitidine were similar to the levels you would expect to be exposed to in foods like grilled or smoked meats.

Then came the FDA's alarming request in April 2020 that manufacturers and retailers pull all ranitidine products from the market. Further testing revealed that NDMA levels increased in ranitidine over time, especially when products were stored in places with higher temperatures. Think of that box of Zantac that's been sitting on the store shelf or in your medicine cabinet for six years. The FDA's message is to toss that medication out right away.

What Types of Cancer May Zantac Cause?

The strongest evidence links five cancers with the use of Zantac, including:

  • esophageal
  • bladder
  • stomach
  • liver, and
  • pancreatic.

Plaintiffs have also alleged a link between Zantac and other cancers, including:

  • breast
  • colorectal
  • lung, and
  • prostate.

Research on ranitidine and cancer is still in the early stages. If you've been diagnosed with any type of cancer after regularly taking Zantac, you might want to talk to a lawyer about a potential claim.

Damages in Zantac Lawsuits

The first Zantac-related injury lawsuit was set to go to trial in Illinois state court in August 2022. The plaintiff, Joseph Bayer, said he developed esophageal cancer from taking over-the-counter Zantac. Bayer dropped his lawsuit for "personal health reasons" against the makers of Zantac, after a series of settlements with generic makers of ranitidine products totaling over $500,000. Bayer has the right to refile against the makers of Zantac within a year.

Plaintiffs in ranitidine-related cancer lawsuits typically ask for compensation for their:

Read more about how much your Zantac case might be worth.

Who Can File a Zantac Lawsuit?

Just because you've taken Zantac in the past doesn't necessarily mean you can file a lawsuit. You have to be able to show:

  • you regularly took Zantac (with receipts and prescriptions to prove it), and
  • developed cancer as a result.

Some types of cancer might be more closely linked to ranitidine exposure than others (see above), but talk to a lawyer if you've been diagnosed with any type of cancer after using a drug containing ranitidine, particularly long-term use of Zantac. You'll need the exact diagnosis you received from your doctor and your treatment plan.

Could a Preexisting Medical Condition Affect My Zantac Case?

The most difficult thing you'll have to show is that your cancer was caused by Zantac and not some other factor like a genetic predisposition.

For example, let's say a plaintiff claims that using Zantac caused him to develop stomach cancer. Let's assume this plaintiff also has the following characteristics:

  • stomach polyps, and
  • obesity.

This plaintiff is going to have a difficult time proving ranitidine is responsible for causing his stomach cancer. According to WebMD, stomach polyps and obesity are risk factors for stomach cancer. And men are twice as likely as women to get stomach cancer. So, the defendant in this Zantac lawsuit is sure to argue that this plaintiff's preexisting conditions are responsible for his stomach cancer, not his use of Zantac.

Ultimately, it would be up to a judge or jury to decide if this plaintiff can prove by a "preponderance of the evidence" (a more likely than not standard) that Zantac caused his stomach cancer. And settlement is always a possibility. Some defendants settle cases that they think they can win, in order to keep litigation costs down and avoid the unpredictability of trial.

What's the Deadline to File a Zantac Lawsuit?

Each type of civil lawsuit—personal injury, contract dispute, property damage—has its own deadline to file. Deadlines vary from state to state. If you miss the deadline to file, your lawsuit will be dismissed and you won't be able to file it again.

In most states, the deadline to file a Zantac-related lawsuit is the same deadline to file most personal injury lawsuits. But some states have a separate deadline for product liability lawsuits.

In a Zantac case, the deadline clock (called the "statute of limitations") typically doesn't start running until the person taking the medication discovers (or should have reasonably discovered) the harm caused by the medication. Or the clock might start on the date the person was diagnosed with or started experiencing symptoms of a health problem caused by the medication.

Figuring out the deadline to file your lawsuit can be tricky. If you need help, talk to a lawyer who specializes in Zantac lawsuits.

Zantac Lawsuit Updates

The potential link between ranitidine and cancer was only discovered a few years ago. Yet the Zantac litigation is already moving full steam ahead. Depending on the type of harm alleged, Zantac plaintiffs may find themselves in either a class action lawsuit or multi-district litigation.

The First Wave of Zantac Litigation

The initial wave of lawsuits began in late 2019 as soon as the FDA confirmed a potential link between ranitidine and NDMA. The majority of these early cases didn't involve cancer-related injury claims. Instead, some plaintiffs argued that they were deceived into buying ranitidine and asked for refunds. Other non-injured plaintiffs filed claims for "medical monitoring" costs, asking defendants to pay for the long-term costs to monitor them for cancer. Some of these cases are seeking class-action status.

Soon after, lawsuits seeking damages for ranitidine-related cancers were pending in federal and state courts all over the country.

The Zantac MDL

Thousands of claims were grouped into federal multidistrict litigation (MDL) action (In Re: Zantac (Ranitidine) Products Liability Litigation). The Zantac MDL was being heard by Judge Robin L. Rosenberg in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida.

A class-action lawsuit is a single lawsuit filed on behalf of a group of people. An MDL action is different. MDL plaintiffs file individual lawsuits, but their lawsuits are grouped together for pretrial matters because they are factually similar. The goal of MDL is to use court time more efficiently and encourage settlement. But before a settlement takes place, a few "test" trials will happen (known as "bellwether" trials).

The results of the bellwether trials are a preview of what all parties involved in the MDL can expect should they go to trial. For example, if all the bellwether cases result in defense verdicts, the defendants might be more inclined to go to trial, or to make low settlement offers. But if many or most of these bellwether trials result in massive jury verdicts in favor of the plaintiffs, then plaintiffs know they have the upper hand in settlement talks.

As of July 2022, there were thousands of lawsuits pending in the Zantac MDL. Thousands more lawsuits are being filed in state courts all over the country by individuals diagnosed with other types of cancer.

On December 6, 2022, Judge Rosenberg rejected the scientific evidence behind the plaintiffs' claims that Zantac causes cancer and dismissed the 50,000 or so cases in the federal Zantac MDL in one fell swoop. The plaintiffs' lawyers intend to appeal the ruling, maintaining that there is a link between Zantac use and cancer. Judge Rosenberg's ruling doesn't affect the thousands of Zantac-related lawsuits filed in state courts around the country.

California Zantac Lawsuits

In California, the Judicial Council can coordinate civil actions that share common questions of facts or law. Over 5,000 Ranitidine Product Cases (JCCP No. 5150) have been coordinated in Alameda, California. The first trial was scheduled to begin in July 2023, but the parties reached a confidential settlement in late June. Now the first California state court trial is scheduled to begin in November 2023.

Delaware Zantac Lawsuits

More than 77,000 people have filed Zantac-related lawsuits in Delaware superior court (Civil Action No. N22C-09-101 ZAN). The judge overseeing those cases has outlined a schedule for the plaintiffs to show general causation for the cancer types involved in the litigation with motions to be heard between January 15 and January 31, 2024.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Zantac Lawsuit?

In order to win a Zantac lawsuit, you'll need legal and medical expertise and the resources to go toe-to-toe with high-powered defendants. Having an experienced lawyer on your side can make a big difference in the outcome of your case.

We've all heard stories about the sky-high hourly rates some lawyers charge. But chances are you won't have to pay a lawyer on an hourly basis to handle a Zantac lawsuit. Most lawyers handle cases like these on a "contingency fee" basis. That means if you lose, you don't pay a fee. If you win, the lawyer takes a percentage of what you receive—usually around one-third of the total. Win or lose, you'll probably be on the hook for costs and expenses like court filing fees and expert witness fees.

Talk to a Zantac Lawyer

If you're experiencing health problems that could be linked to your use of Zantac or another ranitidine product, you should talk to a lawyer. Learn more about how to find an attorney for your Zantac (ranitidine) case. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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