The statin class of cholesterol-lowering medications do not appear to reduce the incidence of cancer or cancer deaths, according to a meta-analysis of previous studies published in the January 4 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Prior studies have suggested that statin use is associated with a reduced risk of developing breast, prostate and colon cancers. But the analysis in JAMA of 26 studies involving 87,000 patients concluded the drugs - which include Pfizer’s Lipitor (atorvastatin), Merck & Co’s Zocor (simvastatin) and Bristol-Myers Squibb’s Pravachol (pravastatin) - had no impact on cancer rates.

The authors report: "No reductions were noted for cancers of the breast, colon, gastrointestinal tract, prostate, respiratory tract, or skin (melanoma) when statins were used."

Meanwhile, another study looking specifically at statin use and the rate of colon cancer and published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute (January 4 issue) has also found no benefit. This analysis involved more than 130,000 patients.

Hopes that statins could treat cancer emerged after a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine last year suggested that patients who used them for at least five years enjoyed a significant 47% reduced relative risk of colorectal cancer.

Some years ago statins had been linked to a possible increased risk of cancer, so the new studies, while disappointing, at least provide some reassurance on that front.