CHICAGO - Contrary to some researchers' hopes, cholesterol-lowering statin drugs do nothing to fight cancer, an analysis found.
Researchers analyzed 26 rigorous, randomized studies involving more than 73,000 patients and concluded that drugs such as top-selling Lipitor and Zocor had no effect on cancer risk or cancer deaths. The findings appear in Wednesday's Journal of the American Medical Association.
"We were very hopeful that we would verify there was an anti-cancer effect," said C. Michael White of the University of Connecticut School of Pharmacy, who led the analysis. "We ended up showing no change in cancer or cancer death."
White said it is time to stop spending money on more studies of cancer and statins.
Previous research, including animal studies and observational studies of humans, had suggested statins might prevent various types of cancer.
For example, a study published earlier this year showed a 47 percent lower risk of colorectal cancer in people who used statins for at least five years.
It was not a randomized study, however, meaning patients were not randomly picked to receive statins. Instead, researchers compared 1,953 patients with colorectal cancer to 2,015 people without the illness.
The senior author of that study, Dr. Stephen Gruber of the University of Michigan, said the new analysis is valuable, but suggests more research is needed.
"When you see contrasting conclusions like this, it's often an opportunity to learn more," Gruber said.
Researchers consider randomized studies to yield the best evidence. Most of the studies analyzed by White and his colleagues also were placebo-controlled studies, in which patients were randomly assigned to take either statins or a placebo.
White said the new findings - as well as the side effects of statins, which can include liver damage and muscle pain - should discourage doctors from prescribing them solely to prevent cancer.
People should continue taking them to lower cholesterol and prevent heart attacks, he said. "It really is a great drug for heart disease," White said.
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