WEDNESDAY, Nov. 10, 2010 (HealthDay News) -- Long term use of cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins does not increase the risk of cancer and may even decrease users' risks for lymphoma, melanoma and endometrial tumors, a new study finds.
Studies have shown that the short-term use of statins -- drugs such as Crestor, Lipitor and Zocor -- has little effect on the risk of developing cancer, but less was known about the their use over the long term.
But the new 10-year study suggests that "even long-term statin use is unlikely to increase the risk of common cancers," according to lead researcher Eric J. Jacobs, strategic director of pharmacoepidemiology at the American Cancer Society.
Jacobs was scheduled to present the results Tuesday at a cancer prevention-focused meeting of American Association for Cancer Research in Philadelphia.
For the study, Jacobs's team collected data on more than 133,000 participants in the Cancer Prevention Study II Nutrition Cohort. These people completed questionnaires that included questions about a variety of lifestyle and medical factors, including their use of statins.
Over 10 years of follow-up, 15,000 participants developed cancer.
However, the use of a statin for 5 years or more did not affect the risk of developing cancer of the bladder, breast, colon/rectum, lung, pancreas, prostate or kidneys, the researchers found. In fact, long-term statin use appears unlikely to substantially increase or decrease overall cancer risk, the researchers noted.
But there was other good news. Compared to people who did not take the medications, 5 or more years of statin use was associated with a lowering of risk for melanoma, endometrial cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma, the team found. For example, odds for endometrial tumors fell by 39 percent among long-term statin users, while the risk for melanoma dropped by 19 percent, the study found.
The lower risk of endometrial cancer and melanoma had not been seen in prior studies, Jacobs said.
Still, "the results of lower risk of melanoma, endometrial cancer and non-Hodgkin lymphoma need to be interpreted cautiously," Jacobs said.
The study was not conclusive, and according to the researchers, the findings deserve further investigation. And experts note that research presented at conferences typically does not undergo the kind of scrutiny given to studies published in leading journals.
One expert took comfort from the results.
"Over the years the issue of statins and cancer has always been there," said Dr. Ronald Goldberg, professor of medicine, biochemistry and molecular biology at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. "It's been demonstrated that the lower the LDL ["bad"] cholesterol, the higher the risk of cancer. And because statins lower LDL there was always the question: Are they promoting that relationship?"
Now, the bulk of the evidence suggests that there is no effect of statins in increasing the risk of malignancy, Goldberg said. "By and large, I think the news is reassuring," he said.
For more information on statins, visit the U.S. National Library of Medicine.