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Cholesterol Drug Fights Cancer?

New research shows that people who take statin drugs to lower their cholesterol to prevent heart disease may also be helping to lower their risk of cancer.

The Early Show medical correspondent Dr. Emily Senay shares the latest about statin drugs.

Statin drugs are the family of drugs that many people take to lower their cholesterol and keep their arteries from clogging. Millions of people take statin drugs, which work wonders to reduce the risk of heart attacks. Researchers at this week's meeting of the world's foremost cancer experts are seeing more evidence of additional benefits from the regular use of these drugs when it comes to cancer prevention.

One study showed that people in Israel, who took statins for at least five years, appeared to cut their risk of colon cancer by about 50 percent. A separate study showed that men who took statins had a 58 percent lower risk of prostate cancer.

These findings provide additional evidence to support preliminary research in the lab that suggests a possible role for statins as cancer fighters.

Senay says it's too early to tell whether the cancer-preventing benefit of statin drugs holds up over the long term. More research, Senay explains, needs to be conducted before any official recommendations are made. There's not yet enough evidence to recommend taking statins for cancer-prevention alone. Researchers say the results are very exciting and will no doubt lead to future studies, but more solid evidence of benefits from long-term research needs to be gathered before doctors prescribe powerful drugs like statins for something like cancer prevention.

A major concern with taking statins to prevent cancer without definitive proof of their worth is the risk of exposing people to possible side effects from statins like muscle and liver problems.

Some experts theorize it may have less to do with the cholesterol-lowering effects of the drugs as much as their power to fight inflammation. Others say that that the drugs may block some cancer-causing genes from working.

Common drugs such as aspirin is also a mainstay of preventing and treating heart attacks. And, Senay says, there is promising evidence that aspirin can also lower the risk of colon cancer. There is new evidence that the osteoporosis drug raloxifene appears to lower the risk of breast cancer in some older women, but again there were risks. Other data showed the drug doubled the risk of potentially hazardous blood clots in the veins.

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