Statins, the popular medications used to control cholesterol and stave off heart attacks, appear to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer, researchers are to report today.
The finding by researchers at the University of Michigan is part of a growing number of studies that are pinpointing new roles for the most widely prescribed class of drugs in the United States. Globally, statins, which include Zocor, Lipitor, Crestor and Pravachol, account for an estimated $20 billion in annual sales.
Word of statins' cancer-preventing capabilities comes days after a Tufts University study demonstrated that Crestor carries a higher risk of side effects compared with other statin brands. Critics say the results were inconclusive.
The new study, led by epidemiologist Jenny Poynter, found that two statins, Zocor and Pravachol, appeared to reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer by 47 percent in a population of Israeli patients. Among 1,953 patients who developed colorectal cancer, there was a lower rate of statin usage compared with a group of 2,015 patients without the disease. While scientists have yet to fully elucidate how statins might prevent cancer, they have some clues.
"It's really not that well understood at this point," Poynter said. "There are several potential mechanisms that may be involved, and one is that they may prevent colorectal cancer by modulating inflammation." Poynter reports her results in today's New England Journal of Medicine.
A growing body of evidence involving various forms of cancer suggests that inflammation may underlie those conditions as well - and that anti-inflammatory statins may help thwart tumor development.
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