As reported by The Day, January 4, 2006.

UConn Study: Statins Show No Effects on Reducing Cancer Risk

Patients shouldn't take such drugs for that purpose, say researchers

By Judy Benson

Statins, including Pfizer Inc.'s biggest seller, Lipitor, have no effect on reducing cancer risk and should not be prescribed for that purpose, according to a study by University of Connecticut researchers whose findings will be published in today's edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

“The results didn't show any overall reduction in cancer rates, and we weren't able to show a reduction in individual cancers,” said Michael White, UConn pharmacy professor and leader of the study, an analysis that combined the results of earlier studies involving more than 73,000 patients.

White said the findings contradict earlier studies that indicated that patients who took statins, which are effective at lowering cholesterol and preventing heart attacks, were less likely to develop cancer. While those studies did accurately find that statins did not increase cancer risk, he said, their effect on cancer reduction was neutral.

While statins are not approved for cancer prevention, articles about the previous research probably caused many patients to ask their doctors to write them a prescription for this purpose, White said. One such article appeared in the May edition of the New England Journal of Medicine.

“It isn't that the pharmaceutical industry is telling people that statins are great for cancer,” he said. Rather, he added, people read, or in some cases misread, articles about medical research and “get caught up in the fervor.”

Statins are the most commonly prescribed type of medication, and Pfizer's Lipitor is the biggest seller of all the statins. During 2004, Lipitor generated about $11 billion in sales for Pfizer, about one-quarter of its total global revenues.

Officials at Pfizer, which employs about 5,500 people at its research, development and manufacturing operations in New London and Groton, declined to comment Tuesday on the UConn study.

About 18 million Americans use Lipitor, introduced in 1997. Other statins include Zocor, manufactured by Merck, as well as Pravachol, from Bristol-Myers Squibb, and its generic equivalent, Pravastatin. All three were included in the UConn study.

White, whose specialty is cardiovascular drugs, said he decided to do the meta-analysis of the previous studies because of the potential for widespread use of statins for cancer prevention.

“They don't live up to the more recent hype of being cancer prevention in a pill,” he said. “If the only reason you're taking a statin is because you're at high risk of cancer, you're getting all of the risks associated with statins and none of the benefits.”

Statins can cause muscle pain, muscle damage and liver toxicity, among other side effects.

Dr. Carolyn Runowicz, director of the Cancer Center at the UConn Health Center in Farmington, noted that on the surface there did seem to be a biological rationale for the idea that statins could prevent cancer because they act to inhibit certain enzymes implicated in the growth of cancer cells. But, as with what proved to be erroneous assumptions about possible secondary benefits of hormone replacement therapy for women, the reputed connection between statins and cancer prevention did not stand up to scientific scrutiny.

The new statin analysis, Runowicz added, is significant because it underscores the fact that there is no pill to prevent cancer. Rather, the most effective cancer prevention comes with lifestyle choices of healthy eating, regular exercise and not smoking.

“I get a lot of people asking me about cancer prevention,” said Runowicz, who also is president of the American Cancer Society. “We know we can prevent cancer with diet and exercise, but that's not what people want to hear.

“People are looking for a pill to prevent cancer, and it's not going to come in a pill.”