The largest meta-analysis on statin side effects to date indicates that these widely used, cholesterol-lowering agents do not increase a person’s risk of developing cancer.

To assess the comparative tolerability and harms of individual statins, a team led by Huseyin Naci, MHS, a research fellow in the Department of Population Medicine at Harvard Medical School, Boston, Massachusetts, reviewed 135 trials involving a total of 246,955 persons with and without cardiovascular disease. The particular findings on cancer risk were based on a pairwise meta-analysis of placebo-controlled trials including 100,523 participants.

Naci and colleagues learned that statins as a class were not significantly different than control treatment in terms of having a link to cancer development. Similarly, a related analysis uncovered no evidence that individual statins differed from control treatment on the basis of 5,511 cancer occurrences among 105,540 participants (5.2%). Finally, there was no evidence of potential head-to-head differences between individual statins.

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As the investigators summarized in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes, statins as a class overall had no statistically detectable effect on the development of cancer, myalgia, myopathy, or rhabdomyolysis, but were associated with an increased risk of diabetes mellitus and hepatic transaminase elevations.