A number of news reports published yesterday implied that taking statins may raise the risk of cancer.
At least 11 million Americans take statins--that's about 10 percent of the adult population. Cancer remains one of the most feared diseases. So let's take a close look at this study before raising the alert level.
Bottom line first
Researchers reporting in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology found a very small potential association between very low LDL cholesterol levels and cancer risk.
This study in 50 words or less
Researchers looking for a link between high doses of statin drugs and side effects to the liver and muscles examined 23 previously published statin studies. As a secondary finding, they observed an elevated risk of cancer (unspecified types) linked to the very lowest LDL levels.
But wait. . .
Any cancer/statin link at this point has holes big enough to drive at least a Mini-Cooper through.
The study has created a hypothesis, not tested it. A possible link will become the subject of additional research.
The link observed was between low LDL levels and cancer--not between statins and cancer. Nothing in the study implicates statin treatment itself.
Low LDL was linked to one additional case of cancer per 1,000 people--a number neither overwhelming nor insignificant in a middle-aged population being treated for heart disease.
As one of the researchers pointed out, if statins prolong life by preventing heart disease, they keep people alive long enough to develop other diseases associated with advanced age, including some cancers. In other words, the cancer incidence may be a marker for better survival in people with low LDL.
So what are you going to do about it?
Nothing. Every expert associated with or asked to comment on this study in news reports warns that nobody should stop taking statins or revise the goal of lowering LDL cholesterol as a result of this finding.
If you seek reassurance, talk to your cardiologist or internist about this finding.
Ask a question about statins, cholesterol control or heart disease of our expert cardiovascular internist, Dr. Larry Weinrauch.
Read a good backgrounder on our site explaining statins' benefits and risks.