• Previous studies had shown  cholesterol-lowering drugs can reduce the risk of certain cancers
  • Research had only looked at women on drugs  for less than five years
  • Experts say drugs could affect hormone  regulation which could lead to breast cancer

By  Pat Hagan

PUBLISHED: 16:17 EST, 19  July 2013 |  UPDATED: 18:05 EST, 19 July 2013

Statins are a major weapon against heart disease. The new findings raise concerns over the long-term safety of the drugs 

Statins are a major weapon against heart disease. The  new findings raise concerns over the long-term safety of the drugs

Women who take statins for more than a decade  face double the risk of contracting the most common type of breast  cancer.

Alarming findings raise new concerns over the  long-term safety of a widely prescribed medicine in the UK.

Previous studies have suggested the  cholesterol-lowering drugs, used by an estimated eight million men and women,  can reduce the risk of certain cancers – including the breast form of the  disease.

However, most research looked at patients who  had only been on them for five years or less.

The latest findings identified invasive  ductal carcinoma (IDC) which starts in the ducts of the breast before spreading  inwards. It accounts for around seven out of ten breast cancer cases.

The experts at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer  Research Centre in Seattle, US, also found the chances of getting invasive  lobular carcinoma, which accounts for ten to 15 per cent of breast cancers, went  up almost 2.5 times in some women on statins long-term.

Around 48,000 women in Britain are diagnosed  with breast cancer each year, equal to around 130 a day. A woman has a one in  nine chance of developing the disease at some point in her life.

The reasons why the anti-cholesterol pills  might stimulate cancer growth are unclear.

The researchers said one explanation may be  that statins affect hormone regulation in the body, especially as the study  found women on the drugs were significantly more likely to suffer cancers driven  by the hormone oestrogen.

 

They said it’s possible that while short-term  use does appear to have a protective effect against breast cancer, in the  long-run statins may damage certain chemical pathways that lead to growth of  tumours.

The report found: ‘As more women are taking  them and for longer durations it is possible we will observe effects that prior  studies could not detect.’

Last night, leading UK cancer bodies called  for urgent research to clarify the risks to women.

But they urged patients on statins not to  stop taking them without consulting their GP.

The researchers said statins could affect hormone regulation in the body, especially as the study found women on the drugs were significantly more likely to suffer cancers driven by the hormone oestrogen 

The researchers said statins could affect hormone  regulation in the body, especially as the study found women on the drugs were  significantly more likely to suffer cancers driven by the hormone  oestrogen

Sally Greenbrook, from the charity  Breakthrough Breast Cancer, said: ‘Any study suggesting a potential link between  statins and breast cancer risk should not be taken lightly. But these drugs are  extremely effective at reducing the risk of cardiovascular  disease.’

Jessica Harris, of Cancer Research UK, said:  ‘There’s been a huge amount of research into the link between statins and  cancer.

‘But so far there’s no conclusive answer,  with some studies showing a reduced risk, some no link, and others showing a  raised risk.’

Statins have also emerged as a major weapon  against heart disease in the last 20 years.

The latest research, published in the journal  Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers and Prevention, examined how long-term statin use  affected breast cancer risk in women aged between 55 and 74.

The researchers studied just under 2,000  women diagnosed with either IDC or ILC between 2000 and 2008 and a separate  group of 902 women of a similar age profile but who were free of  cancer.

Around 370 men a year in the UK are diagnosed  with breast cancer – but the latest research did not investigate the cancer risk  of men taking statins.

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