Heart patients were last night told to keep taking their statin tablets despite the emergence of data from the US suggesting that the cholesterol-lowering tablets might slightly increase users’ risk of cancer.

The study, published in the latest issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology had set out to examine how statins damage liver and muscle tissue.

The researchers did not expect to find the increased cancer risk of one additional incident per 1,000 patients with low LDL-cholesterol levels (the 'bad' form of cholesterol) when compared to patients with higher LDL levels. The cancers found in patients with low LDL were not of any specific type or location.

In their evaluation of randomised, controlled statin trials published

before November 2005, they looked at 13 treatment arms consisting of

41,173 patients. The Tufts University medical school team said last night that they hoped future studies would be able to establish whether or not the risk was real and, if so, whether it was a side effect of statins or just low LDL cholesterol. Lead researcher Professor Richard Karas, said: “The demonstrated benefits of statins in lowering the risk of heart disease remain clear; however, certain aspects of lowering LDL with statins remain controversial and merit further research.”

Prof Karas added that patients should continue their statin treatment and, as always, consult their doctor before discontinuing use of any medication.

Dr James Dove, the president of the American College of Cardiology, was also cautious in interpreting the results. He pointed out: “While these

results raise important new questions about statin use, they do not demonstrate a causal relationship between statins and cancer.”

This message was re-iterated by a spokeswoman for the British Heart

Foundation. She said: “While this highlights an association between low

levels of LDL and cancer, this is not the same as saying that low LDL

or statin use increases the risk of cancer. There is overwhelming evidence that lowering LDL cholesterol through statins saves lives by preventing heart attacks and strokes. These findings do not change the message that the benefits of taking statins greatly outweigh any potential risks."

“People should not stop taking their statin treatment on the basis of

this research. If people have any concerns they should consult their

doctor," she finished.