Zantac (Ranitidine) and Cancer: History and Developments

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

By | Updated by Stacy Barrett, Attorney

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 and legal issues 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). As of December 2021, nearly 2,000 lawsuits are pending in the MDL for Zantac.
  • In April 2020, the FDA requested that manufacturers and retailers remove all ranitidine products from the market.
  • As of December 2021, no settlement agreements or jury verdicts in Zantac-related injury lawsuits are publicly available.
  • The first state Zantac trial is scheduled to begin in February 2023 in California.
  • The first federal MDL Zantac trial is expected to begin in the summer of 2023 in the Southern District of Florida.

Does Zantac Cause Cancer?

In September 2019, Valisure (which bills itself as an "online analytical pharmacy") conducted tests of commonly-available medications containing ranitidine. They 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 in small amounts. After all, it's found in a number of foods many of us eat, including smoked meats. However, in high enough doses, NDMA might cause cancer in people. The question is how much NDMA causes cancer? And how much NDMA does the body receive when taking a typical dose of Zantac?

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 it out right away.

Get more details on the potential link between heart drugs and cancer (from WebMD).

What Types of Cancer May Zantac Cause?

Surveys of patients at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center have revealed a link between ranitidine use and cancers of the:

  • thyroid
  • bladder
  • prostate
  • breasts
  • testicles, and
  • kidneys.

Researchers in the United Kingdom have found that the people who use ranitidine regularly are at an increased risk of developing cancers of the:

  • liver, and
  • bladder.

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 (see below).

Damages in Zantac Lawsuits

As of late 2021, no Zantac-related settlement agreements or jury verdicts are publicly available, so it's hard to put an exact dollar figure on these cases. But plaintiffs in ranitidine-related cancer lawsuits typically ask for compensation for their:

  • cost of medical care (past, ongoing, and future)
  • pain and suffering (physical and mental), and
  • lost income and diminished earning capacity.

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. (Learn why a diagnosis is crucial.)

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 not another factor like a genetic predisposition or environmental exposure.

For example, let's say a plaintiff claims that using Zantac caused him to develop stomach cancer. Let's also assume this plaintiff 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's up to a judge or jury to decide if the plaintiff has proven 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 even settle cases 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 lawsuit (such as a personal injury case or a contract dispute) has its own deadline to file, and each state assigns a deadline for each type. If you miss the deadline, 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 statute of limitations for product liability lawsuits.

In a Zantac case, the deadline "clock" (known as 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 (see below).

Zantac Lawsuit Updates

As you can see from the timeline above, we've known about the potential connection between ranitidine and cancer for only a few years. Yet the Zantac litigation is already moving full steam ahead.

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

Nearly two thousand Zantac/ranitidine claims have been grouped into a federal "multidistrict litigation" (MDL) action (In Re: Zantac (Ranitidine) Products Liability Litigation). The Zantac MDL is being heard by Judge Robin L. Rosenberg in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Florida. Most of the plaintiffs in the MDL have likely been diagnosed with health problems linked to use of Zantac/ranitidine.

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.

In January 2021, lead plaintiffs in the Zantac MDL named eight cancers they plan to focus on, including:

  • bladder
  • colorectal/intestinal
  • esophageal
  • gastric
  • liver
  • lung
  • pancreatic, and
  • prostrate.

Zantac Class Action

The ranitidine-related cancer lawsuits are a big part of the MDL over Zantac. The MDL also includes at least two proposed class actions by non-injured consumers who claim they were deceived by manufacturers and want refunds, and those who want defendants to pay long-term medical monitoring costs.

Learn more about Zantac class action and multidistrict litigation.

Zantac MDL Census

The MDL for Zantac is noteworthy because of its size. The litigation involves an ever-growing number of plaintiffs that could reach over 100,000. The plaintiffs' injuries vary widely from case to case.

The court responded to these and other complications by allowing potential plaintiffs (claimants) to file a census plus form (CPF) online. The census asked claimants about their exposure to ranitidine products, including:

  • length of use (and proof of purchase)
  • brands used, and
  • what type of cancer they developed.

The census allowed plaintiffs and defendants to assess the litigation, including the types of claims and damages pending against defendants. The Zantac MDL census also "tolled" (paused) filing deadlines ("statutes of limitation") for claimants who properly filled out the form.

California Zantac Lawsuits

In California, the Judicial Council can coordinate civil actions that share common questions of facts or law. A group of dozens of Ranitidine Product Cases (JCCP No. 5150) has been coordinated in Alameda, California. The judge overseeing the cases set the first of four bellwether trials to begin on February 13, 2023. The remaining bellwether trials will begin in May, August, and October 2023 unless a global settlement is reached, or the court appoints a mediator to negotiate resolutions.

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 fill out the form at the top or bottom of this page to connect with a lawyer for free.

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