Statin drugs are a family of medications known to reduce the risk of heart attack and death in people with cardiovascular disease. The drugs usually can be identified by the letters “statin” in their names. They include simvastatin, atorvastatin, fluvastatin, pravastatin, and rosuvastin.
Many have worried that statins might increase the risk of dementia, or cancer, or some other serious medical condition, and there have been studies that support those concerns. However, those studies are relatively small. A very large study would be necessary to truly understand the possible risks of taking statin drugs.
The British health care system provides the opportunity to gather huge amounts of data. Medical practices in England and Wales typically use electronic health records.
To look precisely at the issue of the risks of using statins, investigators collected data on almost two million people from over 300 general practices. About 225,000 people, about 10% of the subjects, were new users of one of the statin drugs. Data over five years were used.
The researchers presented their data mostly as relative risks. The five year risk of cataract in a person not using a statin was 0.0495. This means that for 100 people, about five would usually get cataract. Among people using a statin, the five year risk was about a third more, or between six and seven cases in 100 people. Put another way, treating 1000 people with a statin would produce about 19 “extra” cataract cases.
Meantime, the benefit would be a reduced risk of heart attack and sudden death. For every 100 users, about three people would be spared from a new cardiovascular event. Put another way, treating 1000 people with a statin would prevent 27 new cardiovascular cases.
Statin Use Did Not Affect Cancer RiskThere was no association with taking statin medications and the following cancers:
- Colon cancer
- Kidney cancer
- Stomach cancer
- Lung cancer
- Breast cancer
- Prostate cancer
Statin users had a slightly reduced risk of cancer of the esophagus.
Statin Use Associated with Liver, Kidney and Muscle ProblemsA few medical conditions were associated with statin use, as previously known and expected. These were:
- Liver dysfunction
- Kidney failure
- Myopathy (muscle inflammation)