Study finds no statin, cancer link
Jul 20, 2011, 12:44 p.m.
By Amy Norton
NEW YORK (Reuters Health) - People on cholesterol-lowering statins appear to be no more likely to develop cancer than non-users, a new study concludes -- adding to evidence that contradicts a widely publicized report of raised cancer risk from the popular medications.
Looking at medical records for nearly 92,000 Americans in the new study, researchers found that the half who were on statins were no more likely to develop cancer over five years than those not using the cholesterol fighters.
Just under 11.4 percent of statin users developed cancer, versus 11.1 percent of non-users -- with no statistically significant difference in the risk.
The findings, reported in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, offer more reassurance that the drugs taken by millions worldwide do not boost cancer risk.
Most studies on the question have also found no statin-cancer link. But some evidence has suggested differently: a high-profile 2008 clinical trial, for instance, found that heart patients on the statin Vytorin had a higher cancer risk than those on a placebo.
At the time, though, researchers, including the ones who conducted the trial, said there was a high likelihood that the finding was the result of chance.
The main contribution of the new study is that it's based on a large group of patients in the "real world," rather than clinical trial participants, said Candace Gunnarsson of S2 Statistical Solutions, Inc. in Cincinnati, one of the researchers on the work.
"It's data from the real world, from physicians across the country," she told Reuters Health. "It's very reassuring that we were not able to show any kind of an association between statins and cancer."
A cardiologist not involved in the study agreed.
"I think this really puts to rest any lingering concerns," said Dr. Stanley Rockson, a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine in California.
Along with studies showing no higher cancer risk among statin users, there's also no known biological reason that statins would promote cancer, Rockson noted.
In fact, there is some early evidence from recent studies that statins could help treat or lower the risk of certain cancers, like prostate cancer.
In the U.S. alone, an estimated half of men age 65 and older, and 40 percent of women that age, use statins.
With such widespread use, it's important to answer the statin-cancer question "unambiguously," Gunnarsson and her colleagues note in their report.
To study the question, the researchers used a database with electronic medical records for about 11 million Americans.
They pulled information on 45,857 statin users and matched each of them with another patient who had never used a statin but had a similar "propensity" for using one -- based on factors like their weight, age, cholesterol levels and any medical conditions.
All men included in the study were age 45 or older; all women were 55 or more.
Overall, the study found no evidence that statin users had a heightened cancer risk over five years.
Similar studies, the researchers write, could be done to weed out any cancer risk connected to individual statins, since the drugs are not all alike in their chemistry.
But Rockson said he doesn't see a need for further studies.
"I think that if their doctor wants to prescribe a statin," he said, "patients can feel very comfortable that there is no increased risk of cancer."
SOURCE: http://bit.ly/oHo6vQ Journal of the American College of Cardiology, online July 18, 2011.