Statins and cancer

Published: November, 2007

The first statin drug was approved for clinical use in the United States in 1987. Doctors quickly recognized that lovastatin (Mevacor) had an excellent effect on blood cholesterol levels, but they worried about possible side effects. In the next 20 years, the statin family grew to its current roster of six drugs. A seventh, cerivastatin (Baycol), was withdrawn because of muscle toxicity, but the others have proved safe — and they've shown an unrivaled ability to reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels and cut the risk of heart attacks and cardiovascular deaths.

Since statins are the largest-selling prescription drugs in this country, doctors have wondered if they may have benefits beyond the heart. Indeed, statins produce a substantial reduction in the risk of stroke. And although the results are less conclusive, statins are being studied for possible benefits against a variety of diseases, from cataracts and dementia to chronic lung disease, osteoporosis, and the flu. And now attention is turning to statins and cancer.

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