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Lowering Cholesterol May Boost Cancer Risk, Study Says

A new study shows lowering cholesterol could increase the risk of cancer.

The Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that researchers observed as much as triple the incidence of cancer among patients who lowered their bad or LDL cholesterol using the popular drugs known as statins. The rate, the study says, was especially high among patients with cholesterol levels below 160.

But they don't know if the cancer was caused by the drug, the low cholesterol or happenstance. The doctors who did the study say the heart benefits of statins still outweigh the risk of cancer and that patients should not stop taking their medication.

Researchers looked at the results of clinical trials involving more than 75,000 people who took statins. They're the

biggest segment of the drug industry accounting for $18 billion in sales in 2006, according to Verispan, which monitors prescriptions.

Pfizer's Lipitor, Merck and Schering-Plough's Vytorin and AstraZeneca's Crestor are among the top-selling brand-name statins.

The editor of JACC says the staff debated for three weeks whether to publish this study, but in the end decided that "these findings could not be ignored, that they did warrant further investigation, and that they should be aired in public."

Pfizer, which makes the world's top-selling statin, Lipitor, called the JACC study limited. The company said similar, larger analyses have shown no increased risk of cancer on the drug and that a company-sponsored clinical trial of 10,000 patients also showed no increased risk of cancer death.

Pfizer also said that the JACC study indicates no causal relationship between statins and cancer.