Do Statins Prevent Colon Cancer?

At the conference of the American Society of Clinical Oncology in June 2004, researchers revealed that people who took statins for at least five years appeared to cut their risk of colon cancer by 50%.

Earlier work with statins had shown reductions in breast and prostate cancer as well as general cancer risk. However, the evidence is still too weak to recommend that everyone take statins for cancer prevention alone. A carefully controlled experiment that would be designed specifically to show a reduced risk is needed. So far, the data pertain largely to patients who take statins for reasons other than cancer.

A team from the University of Michigan, working in Israel, studied more than 1,608 patients with colorectal cancer and 1,734 matched patients without colon cancer and noted a 50% reduced risk of this malignancy in the statin patients. However, this was an observational study of patients’ prescription records.

Most of the participants took either generic pravastatin (Pravachol canadian, Bristol-Myers Squibb) or tablet simvastatin (Zocor drug, Merck). Adjusting for other factors (e.g., health habits) did not change the strong link between statins and a lowered risk. Patients taking other types of cholesterol drugs had no cancer protection.

Some experts suggest that statins can reduce inflammation or block the functions of some cancer-causing genes. Physicians are concerned that exposing people to statins, when there is no definitive proof of their immediate worth with cancer, might lead to possible side effects, such as muscle pain, liver problems, and blood clots.