Statin therapy is not a cause of increased cancer rates and deaths, according to a new study. Earlier research that had raised concerns of a causal link between the drugs, which are taken by millions of people worldwide to lower cholesterol levels, and increasing cancer rates, according to the researchers.
In the study, researchers from University of Oxford in England and the University of Sydney in Australia examined data from 170,000 people from 26 previously-conducted trials. More than 10,000 of these people developed cancer and over 3,500 died from cancer.
The researchers determined that cancer rates and deaths were exactly the same in people taking statin therapy 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," Dr. Jonathan Emberson, a statistician at University of Oxford, said in a statement.
The study is the largest of its type, according to the researchers, and due to its large size, they were able to refute previous suggestions that statin therapy might cause particular types of cancer or that it might cause cancer in particular groups of people. Previous research had been based on relatively small trials or studies that could not exclude the effect of other factors. By contrast, this analysis provided the most reliable evidence about the benefits and risks of statin therapy, according to the researchers.
The study also demonstrated 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 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 study researcher Colin Baigent, professor with the Medical Research Council in England.
The study did not directly address the question of cancer rates over a term longer than five years.
The study was funded by the U.K. Medical Research Council, the British Heart Foundation and the National Health and Medical Research Council of Australia, and involved collaborators from all over the world.