By Leslie Mann, Special to the Tribune
September 5, 2012
That statin pill you take each day to keep your cholesterol in check may reduce your risk of cancer, too, according to a study in Israel.
The study examined data collected from 202,648 adults, ages 21 and older, who were enrolled in an HMO from 1998 to 2006 and used statins. Those who took the pills regularly were 31 percent less likely to get cancer, especially leukemia, myeloma and lymphoma.
For men, the link between statin use and lower lymphoma risk was especially pronounced. For women, statin use was especially associated with a lower risk of genital cancers.
The efficacy rate of the statins mattered too. The patients who took high-efficacy statins, such as 40 mg simvastatin, had lower cancer risks than those who took low-efficacy statins.
Unlike previous clinical trails, the study tallied data from a "real-world population" over many years, Miriam Lutski, author of the study and doctoral candidate with the School of Public Health at Tel Aviv University in Tel Aviv, said in an email interview.
Previous smaller studies have linked statin use to lower levels of breast, colorectal and lymph cancers.
The study results were the same for users of lipophilic statins, such as Lipitor, and hydrophilic statins, such as Pravachol.
The patients included a socioeconomic cross-section of Israelis, with a mean age of 57.3 years old.
Missing from the data was information about the patients' physical activity, diet and family history of cancer. For part of the patient population, though, whether or not the patients smoked was known but had no significant affect on the statin-and-cancer risk link, Lutski said.
More studies are needed, added Lutski, to review the link between cancer risk and newer statins that have come on the market since the HMO data were collected.
Because patients in this study were all Israelis, it did not compare the statin-and-cancer risk link for all races. "It is well-known that race may affect cancer," said Lutski. So it would be beneficial, she said, to find out if statin use affects, for example, the relatively higher risk of colorectal cancer among African-American males.
It is premature to say doctors should prescribe statins as cancer preventives, said Lutski. But at least this study confirms that "statins have a protective effect that goes far beyond just fighting (high cholesterol)," she said.
The study was published in the Aug. 9 edition of Preventing Chronic Disease, an online journal.
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