People taking statins may be less likely to develop cancer,according to a new study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute.

The study, carried out by researchers in Boston, USA, involved a meta-analysis of 62,800 patients in the Veterans Affairs New England Healthcare System between January 1997, and December 2005. It included around 37,250 veterans taking statins and the remainder on antihypertensives.

The veterans, who were on average aged 66 and were mostly men, were studied for five years and those taking statins had a 9.4% cancer incidence, compared to 13.2% for those on blood pressure medication. The researchers also looked at five of the most common types of cancers in the study group – prostate, lung, colorectal, bladder cancer and melanoma – and found significant risk reduction for the first three cancers. They also noted that the higher the statin dose, the lower the incidence of cancer.

Previous meta-analyses of statins “have failed to show any statistically significant benefit of statins for cancer prevention,” leader of the study Wildon Farwell, of the VA Boston Healthcare System, noted though he added that these trials included relatively young participants, who develop few cancers. He added that their follow-up periods may have been too short to detect an association between statin use and cancer incidence.

While accepting the limitation of his own study, which did not include information on the patients' diet, exercise and other habits, Dr Farwell said the findings mean that “additional observational studies and randomized trials of statins for cancer prevention are warranted”.