Fluke or Trend? Statins vs Cancer Deaths

Primary Care Blog

For all the good that's been attributed to statins (multiple randomized controlled trials demonstrate decrease in all-cause mortalityand more recently, a decrease risk of pancreatitis), they are also the recipients of much scorn w/recent revision of their class labeling to include both an increase risk of hyperglycemia as well as cognitive dysfunction.  This is, of course, in addition to the known risk of liver dysfunction and rhabdomyolysis. 

So in an attempt to continue to drink from the fire hydrant of medical research, I thought I'd mention a population study of 295,925 Danes published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine in which the authors concluded that statin use was associated with decrease risk of cancer mortality.  The authors arrived at their conclusion by comparing all those older than 40yo who'd received a cancer diagnosis over a 12 year period and who'd received a statin to those diagnosed with cancer but who had not taken a statin previously.   

As noted in other studies, because this was an observational study, the authors readily acknowledged that randomized controlled trials are needed to determine the direction, if any, of cause & effect.  But lest you think this study was a fluke, check out studies published inJanuary 2008 & April 2008, both concluding that statin use was associated with lower risk of cancer incidence.  So while I can't advocate & recommend taking a statin to prevent cancer, these studies, taken in whole, lend support to continuing therapy as directed by your physician.  But let's not forget that the basis of your health starts w/regular physical activity & good nutrition.  Statins should only be used for approved indications for now.  But who knows?  Maybe in a few years we'll be taking statins to lower your risk of cancer.

Alvin B. Lin, MD, FAAFP
Dr. Lin is an associate professor of family and community medicine at University of Nevada School of Medicine and an adjunct professor of family medicine and geriatrics at Touro University Nevada College of Medicine. He also serves as an advisory medical director for Infinity Hospice Care and as medical director of Lions HealthFirst Foundation. Dr. Lin maintains a small private practice in Las Vegas, NV. The posts represent the views of Dr. Lin, and in no way are to be construed as representative of the above listed organizations. Dr. Lin blogs about current medical literature and news at