NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


May 31, 2005

Statins, effective lipid-lowering agents used to treat high cholesterol, may reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, according to a Molecular Epidemiology of Colorectal Cancer study in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers say statins inhibit the growth of colon-cancer cell lines and may have chemopreventive activity against cancer. Their recent findings are significant considering colorectal cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in the United States, with approximately 145,000 new cases and 56,300 deaths projected for 2005.

The results are encouraging:

  • The use of statins for at least five years (vs. the nonuse of statins) was associated with a 47 percent relative reduction in the risk of colorectal cancer after adjustment for other known risk factors.
  • The protective association remained significant among patients with a family history of colorectal cancer.
  • In the study?s average-risk population, 4,814 persons would need to be treated with statins to prevent one case of colorectal cancer, whereas in a high-risk population half as many would need to be treated to prevent one case.

The researchers say their data is consistent with preclinical data suggesting that it is biologically plausible that statins may have a role in colorectal cancer. No significant association was found between other types of cholesterol-lowering drugs and the risk of colorectal cancer, indicating the specific effect of statins.

Researchers say aspirin and other nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) could also be attractive chemopreventive candidates, although concern about toxicity may limit broad application of these agents. In vitro data suggest statins may have a positive synergistic effect with NSAIDs, but further research is necessary.

Source: Jenny N. Poynter et al., "Statins and the Risk of Colorectal Cancer," New England Journal of Medicine, May 26, 2005.

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