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Cholesterol lowering statins unable to lower cancer incidence, mortality

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By David Liu, PHD

Monday Nov 12, 2012 (foodconsumer.org) -- A new meta-analysis of data from 175,000 people in 27 randomized trials, which was published in PLoS One, found no evidence to suggest that cholesterol lowering statin therapy reduces cancer risk.  

Statins are a class of drugs that are indicated to treat high serum levels of low density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, which is linked to heart disease,  particularly in those who have had a history of heart disease or are at high risk for the disease.

Researchers of Cholesterol Treatment Trialists' (CTT) Collaboration analysed data from 134,537 participants who were enrolled in 22 randomized trials of statins versus controls, which lasted for an average 4.8 years and 39,612 participants in five trials of highly intense statin therapy versus less intense statin therapy, which lasted for an average of 5.1 years.

Reducing LDL cholesterol with statins for five years was found to have no effect on newly diagnosed cancer or risk of death from cancers in both types of trials.  Furthermore, there was no evidence that use of statins to lower LDL cholesterol have any impact on the incidence or mortality in any of the trials regardless of treatment durations, statin type, or any given subgroup.

Additionally, individuals having already lower levels of LDL cholesterol at baseline who used statins to further lower the cholesterol level from 1.7 to 1.3 mmol/L were not at increased risk of cancer.
The researchers concluded "In 27 randomised trials, a median of five years of statin therapy had no effect on the incidence of, or mortality from, any type of cancer (or the aggregate of all cancer)."

The study was inconsistent with findings from a report most recently published in New England Journal of Medicine, which claims that lowering cholesterol with statins can help lower death risk from 13 types of cancer.

S.F. Nielsen of Herlev Hospital, Copenhagen University Hospital in Herlev, Denmark and colleagues compared 18,721 patients who had regularly used statins prior to diagnosis of cancer and 277,204 who were diagnosed with cancer, but had never used statins to treat high cholesterol.  Patients were diagnosed with cancer between 1995 and 2007 and were followed until Dec 31, 2009.
Statin users were found 15 percent less likely to die from any cause and 15 percent less likely to die from cancer.   The risk reduction was observed for each of 13 types of malignancies.  But the dosage did not seem to cause too much of a variation in the risk reduction though.

Nielsen et al. explained that lower availability of cholesterol may restrict the cellular proliferation required for cancer growth and metastasis.

Although statins do not seem to increase risk of cancer from these studies, they can cause side effects.  To avoid side effects or even adverse effects in some cases, red yeast rice can be a perfect alternative to statins.  Studies show an equal efficacy in lowering cholesterol, but no side effects have been associated with use of red yeast rice.

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