Statins: No Cancer Risk

Study Shows Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Not Guilty of Cancer Risk

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on August 20, 2008
From the WebMD Archives

Aug. 20, 2008 -- Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs do not increase cancer risk, says Tufts University's Richard Karas, MD, who last year warned of a possible risk.

The earlier warning was based on data suggesting that people achieved the lowest "bad" LDL cholesterol levels while taking statin drugs had the highest cancer risk.

But a more complete analysis of the data, from 15 large, randomized statin studies including nearly 52,000 patients, shows no link between statins and cancer risk.

"When you put all of the information together, there is no evidence that statins increase the risk of cancer," Karas says in a news release. "This study should reassure those taking statins that they are not increasing their risk of cancer by trying to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease."

In fact, the studies showed that statins lowered LDL cholesterol levels by an average of 40 points. This cholesterol reduction came with no increase in cancer risk. Studies suggest that every 40-point reduction in LDL cholesterol reduces a person's risk of heart disease by 20%.

Statin drugs includeLescol, Mevacor, Lipitor, Pravachol, Crestor, and Zocor.

Karas and colleagues did not set out to look at cancer risk. They were analyzing clinical trial data to evaluate other possible side effects and were asked to include cancer in their analysis.

Previous studies have linked very low LDL cholesterol to cancer risk. The Karas team confirmed this link. They also showed that statins -- regardless of dose -- had no effect on cancer risk.

Whatever link there may be between low LDL cholesterol levels and cancer, they conclude, it "is not driven by statins."

"Statin therapy, despite producing marked reductions in LDL cholesterol, is not associated with an increased risk of cancer," Karas and colleagues write.

The new findings appear in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, published online ahead of print on Aug. 20.