Here is a summary of what the experts believe today about statins and cancer.
Do Statins Affect The Overall Risk of Cancer?At least two large meta-analyses have now been conducted on the question of statins and the risk of cancer, which included hundreds of thousands of patients taking statins. Both of these analyses concluded that there is no measurable effect of statins on either the risk of developing cancer, or the risk of dying from cancer. So overall, statins do not appear to either decrease or increase the incidence or severity of cancer.
Is There A Statin Effect On Particular Types of Cancer?While the overall cancer risk does not appear to be affected by statin drugs, some studies have suggested that statins may reduce the risk of certain specific types of cancer, in particular, prostate cancer, breast cancer, colon cancer, liver cancer, and lung cancer.
Statins and Prostate CancerWhile several observational studies have suggested that statins may reduce the risk of prostate cancer, a large meta-analysis found no such risk reduction in the overall incidence of this cancer. However, that same meta-analysis showed that statins were associated with a significant reduction in developing advanced prostate cancer.
So while statins do not lower the overall risk of prostate cancer, they may lower the risk of the more lethal varieties of prostate cancer.
Statins and Breast CancerStudies evaluating the incidence of breast cancer among women taking statins have given conflicting results. Some studies have shown a reduction in breast cancer, while others have not. A large meta-analysis conducted to try to sort out the conflicting studies found no correlation between statin usage and the incidence of breast cancer.
But a recent report (which is available only in abstract form) from the Women's Health Initiative study claims to have found a marginal reduction in invasive breast cancer among women taking simvastatin (but not in women taking other types of statins). Overall, most experts currently find no compelling evidence that statins reduce the incidence of breast cancer.
Statins and Colon CancerThree large studies have shown at least a modest reduction in the risk of colon cancer in patients taking statins. Several other studies, however, have shown no reduction in colon cancer with statins. Given these conflicting results, experts are reluctant to say that statins have any beneficial effect on colon cancer.
Statins and Liver CancerA large study from China showed a significant reduction in liver cancer among patients taking statins. Similarly, a reduction in liver cancer with statin usage was reported in a large meta-analysis that included 1.6 million patients.
The evidence suggesting that statins may reduce the risk of liver cancer appears at this time to be the most convincing of all the evidence regarding the effect of statins on cancer.
Statins and Lung CancerA large case-controlled study which included almost 500,000 patients from the VA Health Care System reported that patients taking statins for at least six months had a 55% reduction in the incidence of lung cancer. While this result seems impressive, several experts have noted that a benefit of this magnitude ought to have been detected in one or more of the large meta-analyses — and none has. So any potential benefit of statins with regard to lung cancer remains highly questionable.
SummaryWhether, and to what degree, statins may protect against cancer remains unproven. It appears unlikely that statins actually reduce the overall risk of cancer; in fact, it's more likely that statins may lower the risk of certain types of cancer, though (with the possible exception of liver cancer) even this possibility remains questionable. Experts at this time do not recommend that statins be prescribed to anyone for the purpose of cancer prevention.
On the other hand, if your doctor is prescribing a statin drug to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, you may be comforted in knowing that there is virtually no evidence that statins increase your risk of cancer, and that, if anything, statins may reduce your chances of getting some types of cancer.
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