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In the early 2000's, and periodically since, there were proposals from the medical profession that the entire world should be put on statin medications, the drugs most commonly prescribed to lower cholesterol. Physicians writing in BMJ, the British Medical Journal, even proposed that a polypill consisting of a statin like Lipitor, three blood pressure drugs (including one known to increase the risk of diabetes), folic acid (which is harmful to the 22 percent of the population who have what are called MTHFR mutations), and Aspirin should even be added to the water supply, like fluoride. The combination, the experts opined, could eliminate 80 percent of heart attacks.
Actually, for some people the combination actually causes heart attacks, but fortunately for the world, the overzealous advocates of anti-cholesterol medications haven't got their way. Recently researchers uncovered at least one reason against willy-nilly prescription of statins, increased risk of colon cancer. However, like nearly any study, this study also has results that need to be understood in terms of nuance.
Cholesterol and the Danger of Being Diagnosed with Colon Cancer in the Next Year
One of the medical miracles attributed to long-term use of Lipitor, Crestor, Zocor, Mevacor, and other statin drugs is reduced risk of colon cancer, but group of researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, Yale, and Tel Aviv University has found a wrinkle in the results of a study of cholesterol levels and colon cancer.
Basically, the findings of the research are these:
- People who take statins are less likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer.
- People who have sharp drops in cholesterol levels are more likely to be diagnosed with colon cancer.
These two findings look contradictory, don't they? They looked contradictory to the researchers, too. This group of doctors looked at the possibility that a systematic bias in favor of statin drugs led other researchers to conclude that statins reduce colorectal cancer risk. Here's how they teased out answers from the masses of data.
Statins Decrease Your Risk of Colon Cancer, But...
The researchers analyzed 22,163 colorectal cancer cases and 86,538 matched controls from a supposedly randomized database called The Health Improvement Network (THIN). They found that using a statin reduced the risk of colon cancer by about 5 percent. That figure, however, is a little misleading. Everybody doesn't get colon cancer. Even if you live in one of the most colon cancer-prone countries on earth, your risk of getting colon cancer in any given year is only about 4 in 1000. If you take a statin drug, your risk of colon cancer is 5 percent less, which is still about 4 in 1000.
However, when the researchers looked at the data for the 24,132 who said "Enough statins, I'm not taking any more," or whose doctors took them off the drugs, they found that lower cholesterol was associated with higher rates of colon cancer. For every 1 mmol/L (38 mg/dl) people lowered their cholesterol with statins, they had a 25 percent greater risk of cancer. For every 1 mmol/L (38 mg/dl) lowering of cholesterol without statins, risk of colon cancer more than doubled.