Statins do not increase cancer risk

  • Deborah Condon

A major new study has found no evidence that statins - drugs used in the treatment of high cholesterol levels - increase cancer rates and deaths.

According to the UK and Australian researchers involved, these findings will reassure the millions of people worldwide who are currently taking statins. The results also clarify earlier research that had raised concerns of a possible link between the drugs and cancer.

The Cholesterol Treatment Trialists' Collaboration is the largest and most reliable study of its type. It examined data from 170,000 people involved in 26 different trials. Of these, over 10,000 developed cancer and over 3,500 died from cancer.

An extensive analysis determined that cancer rates and deaths were exactly the same in people taking statins as those being given a placebo tablet.

"Statin therapy had no adverse effect on cancer at any site or in any group of individuals, irrespective of their cholesterol levels. There was also no association of cancer with statin dose or duration," explained senior statistician, Dr Jonathan Emberson of the University of Oxford.

Due to its large size, the study was able to refute previous suggestions that statin therapy might cause particular types of cancer, such as breast cancer, or that it might cause cancer in particular groups of people.

Previous research into this topic had been based on relatively small trials or studies that could not exclude the effect of other factors. By contrast, this analysis of trials provides the most reliable evidence about the benefits and risks of statin therapy.

The study also found that when comparing a high statin dose with a standard dose, cancer risk was not increased. Even among people with already low cholesterol levels, further reducing these levels with more potent statin regimens did not increase their risk of cancer.

"This study demonstrates reliably that reducing LDL, or ‘bad' cholesterol, with statin therapy has no adverse effects on cancer, at least within a period of about five years," said co-ordinator of the Oxford team, Prof Colin Baigent.

The researchers concluded that these findings are ‘extremely reassuring for patients'.

"Statins are one of the most effective known therapies for the prevention of heart attacks and strokes and this study should reassure the millions of people who are taking them worldwide."


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