Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Questions about Statins and Cancer Deserve More Research

There's no disputing the fact that millions of Americans have had their LDL lowered by taking statins. Recent data from large-scale statin trials has shown doctors that more intensive LDL lowering can provide significant cardiovascular benefits to higher-risk patients; this has led to higher doses of statins being prescribed to reach those lower goals. Potential problems have arisen because informal observations have begun to link intensive LDL lowering with a higher incidence of reported health issues (including liver and muscle toxicity and cancer). The safety of such treatments is being called into question by some, requiring more research to prove the safety of aggressive use of statins.

How low should you go when lowering your low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol? Many scientific studies support the benefits of lowering LDL, which is one of the most important steps in preventing heart disease. Published research, however, is now providing evidence for an association between low LDL levels and cancer risk.

A study published in the July 31, 2007, issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology set out to understand how and why statins cause side effects, particularly damage to the liver and muscle cells. The study findings support taking multiple medications rather than high-dose statins to minimize those side effects. The researchers were not looking for a cancer risk, but they did discover one additional incident per 1,000 patients with very-low LDL levels. Additional studies have already begun to investigate this potential risk further.

The authors make it clear that this analysis doesn’t implicate statins in increasing the risk of cancer, but it does point the way for more research on certain aspects of lowering LDL with statins. Aggressive statin use may remain controversial until this cancer connection becomes clear.


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