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Statins Offer No Anti-Cancer Benefit

January 5, 2006

Despite previous studies suggesting statin drugs offer protection against cancer, researchers in Connecticut report that statins offer no such benefit.

The study by researchers in Connecticut was published in the January 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association and reported by Reuters on January 3, 2006.

Statin medications are prescribed to reduce cholesterol levels and lower the risk of heart attack.

Statins are the world's most commonly prescribed drug-class and popular brand include: Pfizer Inc.'s Lipitor, Merck & Co Inc.'s Zocor, Bristol-Myers Squibb's Pravachol, Merck's Mevacor and Novartis AG's Lescol.

Earlier studies of statin drugs suggested they were associated with lower incidences of cancer, including breast, prostate and colon cancer. However, results of this meta-analysis of 87,000 patients showed that statin drugs did not affect cancer rates.

"When we put all the trials together we were hopeful of validating a cancer-protective effect, but we ended up not finding any," said C. Michael White, PharmD, of the University of Connecticut and Hartford Hospital, an author on the study, to Reuters in a telephone interview.

A second study, by the American Cancer Society, involved data from >130,000 patients in the US and showed no reduction in colon cancer rates for people taking statins. These findings were published in the 4 January issue of the Journal of the National Cancer Institute and reported by Reuters.

Dr White said that previous studies linking statin use and anti-cancer protection checked databases of patients with or without cancer and retrospectively looked for statin use. He said such so-called case-controlled studies prove nothing.

Dr White's team reviewed data from randomized studies in which participants were recruited and divided into groups to receive either statins or a placebo, to measure statins' effectiveness in protecting against heart disease. These studies also monitored cancer cases, because of early concerns that statins might cause or promote cancer.

"It's come full circle -- first they thought it was a great drug for heart disease that might cause cancer, then they thought it might prevent cancer. But we now know they can take the drug safely without risk of cancer," Dr White said, according to Reuters.

Dr White and colleagues' analysis also examined specific statin drugs and kinds of cancers to identify any possible relationships, but found none.

"We don't want to dilute the positives from statins ... but if you don't have heart disease and take them to prevent cancer, that's not a good reason," Dr White said, according to Reuters.

Similarly, Researchers in the American Cancer Society study analyzed information about participants in a larger cancer-prevention study that started in 1992.

In this study, participants who were diagnosed with cancer were later asked about their use of cholesterol-lowering drugs. Also, researchers matched cancer cases using a government database. Lead author Eric J Jacobs, PhD, an epidemiologist for the cancer research and advocacy group, said that this approach allowed his team to examine more long-term data that found statins did not affect cancer risk.

According to Reuters, Dr Jacobs added that, while other researchers may continue to investigate a possible link, "it's not especially promising."

Statins do not affect cancer risk, researchers say, Reuters, January 3, 2006.
Statins and Cancer Risk: A Meta-analysis, KM Dale et al, Journal of the American Medical Association, volume 295, pages 74-80, January 4, 2006.
Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs and Colorectal Cancer Incidence in a Large United States Cohort. Eric J Jacobs et al, Journal of the National Cancer Institute, volume 98 (1), pages 69-72, January 4, 2006.

Posted: January 2006