There appears to be no evidence from any reputable source that Suboxone or similar medications cause throat cancer. It’s possible this claim comes from the fact it can sometimes cause dry mouth and throat irritation.
Known Side Effects of Suboxone
Suboxone is a medication that combines buprenorphine and naloxone. It is an accepted, evidence-based treatment for opioid use disorder (OUD), typically best used in combination with psychotherapy. While generally considered safe, with low misuse and addiction potential, Suboxone does have some side effects associated with it.
Symptoms people sometimes experience while on Suboxone, primarily due to its buprenorphine component, include the following:
- Gastrointestinal symptoms, including constipation, diarrhea, upset stomach, stomachache, and vomiting
- Sleepiness or fatigue
- Back pain
- Dry mouth
- Cold-like symptoms
Some of the more serious side effects associated with Suboxone and similar medications, all of which warrant contacting a doctor immediately if experienced, include the following:
- Respiratory distress or difficulty breathing
- Physical dependence
- Neonatal abstinence syndrome (in newborns)
In the case of physical dependence, this is often a normal occurrence of taking Suboxone as part of one’s OUD treatment. However, it still warrants mentioning to a medical professional, especially if you are experiencing withdrawal symptoms alongside that dependence at your currently prescribed dose.
Buprenorphine can be somewhat taxing on the liver but this is not typically a concern for patients in relatively good health. For patients with liver dysfunction, dosing can also be modified to accommodate their health condition and prevent toxicity. Experts also recommend caution for patients with respiratory depression or gastrointestinal obstruction, although the medication can still sometimes be used to help these patients.
Does Suboxone Cause Throat Cancer?
While some internet sources make claims to the contrary, there doesn’t seem to be any available medical evidence that Suboxone or similar medications cause throat cancer. It can sometimes cause throat irritation, which may be what causes concern in some users, but the medication hasn’t been shown to increase a person’s throat cancer risk.
It can be difficult to fully prove a negative in medicine due to the fact there is almost always more to learn about how a drug impacts the body. Still, buprenorphine, the main ingredient in Suboxone, has been in use since the late 1960s, and to date no convincing link with throat cancer has been demonstrated. Additionally, the medications used to treat opioid use disorder are some of the most heavily researched due to the ongoing opioid misuse epidemic in the United States and much of the rest of the world. If Suboxone or similar medications significantly increase one’s risk of throat cancer, it likely would have been noted not just in some research but in a significant amount of it.
Additionally, buprenorphine is often used by cancer treatment professionals to help treat cancer-related pain. While this wouldn’t disprove that Suboxone could cause cancer if noted in isolation, it does seem to further add credence to the fact Suboxone isn’t a throat cancer risk when combined with the lack of evidence that Suboxone does increase one’s cancer risk.
Medical Advice for Those Considering Suboxone
While Suboxone is generally considered a safe medication, it should only be used as prescribed by a medical professional. If you have an opioid use disorder and think you may benefit from Suboxone or similar medications as part of a medication for OUD (mOUD) treatment program, you should talk with an addiction treatment professional.
Suboxone shouldn’t be mixed with other drugs without first confirming it is safe with your doctor, especially those that can suppress breathing, including alcohol. This has the potential to cause dangerous side effects and may also impact the efficacy of your OUD treatment. Additionally, you should talk with a doctor if you experience any symptom that seems severe or is seriously impacting your quality of life, as this isn’t typical and may mean your treatment plan needs adjusting.
Despite these warnings, Suboxone is widely considered safe when taken as prescribed and considered to have low misuse and addiction potential. Some internet sources claim otherwise and the drug can have a stigma around its use, but the reality is that these treatments are backed by a significant amount of up-to-date medical research and regularly used by addiction treatment experts. While not without risks and downsides, these potential downsides are usually considered to be outweighed by the medication’s many benefits for treating opioid use disorder.
- Suboxone: Rationale, Science, Misconceptions. The Ochsner Journal. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5855417/. 2018. Accessed February 2023.
- Buprenorphine. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center. https://www.mskcc.org/cancer-care/patient-education/medications/buprenorphine. July 2022. Accessed February 2023.
- Buprenorphine. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. https://www.samhsa.gov/medications-substance-use-disorders/medications-counseling-related-conditions/buprenorphine. January 2023. Accessed February 2023.
- Buprenorphine. StatPearls. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK459126/. May 2022. Accessed February 2023.
- Safety and Efficacy of the Unique Opioid Buprenorphine for the Treatment of Chronic Pain. Journal of Pain Research. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6917545/. December 2019. Accessed February 2023.
Reviewed By Peter Manza, PhD
Peter Manza, PhD received his BA in Psychology and Biology from the University of Rochester and his PhD in Integrative Neuroscience at Stony Brook University. He is currently working as a research scientist in Washington, DC. His research focuses on the role ... Read More