London: Cholesterol-lowering drugs continue to produce benefits without any serious safety problems, such as increased cancer risk, even after more than a decade of use, researchers said Wednesday.
The finding from a large British clinical study following patients for 11 years provides reassurance for people at risk of heart attacks who are typically prescribed such medicines indefinitely.
So-called statin drugs are not without side effects. They can cause nausea, muscle pain, and occasional kidney and liver damage.
But long-term follow-up in the 20,000-patient Heart Protection Study (HPS) found no evidence that statins increased the risk of non-vascular mortality or made patients more likely to develop cancer.
Richard Bulbulia of the University of Oxford`s Clinical Trial Service Unit, one of the leaders of the trial, said the persistence of the benefit and the long-term evidence of safety was "remarkable."
Outside experts agreed it was reassuring. Some past studies have indicated a possible cancer risk with statins, although a major analysis by U.S. researchers three years ago concluded there was no causal link.
"Concerns should be put to rest, and doctors should feel reassured about the long-term safety of this life-saving treatment for patients at increased cardiovascular risk," Payal Kohli and Christopher Cannon of Boston`s Brigham and Women`s Hospital wrote in a commentary in the Lancet medical journal, which published the results online.
The HPS study assessed the benefits of 40 milligrams daily of simvastatin, the active ingredient of Merck & Co`s now off-patent drug Zocor, or placebo.
It found a 23 percent reduction in heart attack, stroke and vascular disease after five years in those on treatment -- and the benefit persisted largely unchanged for a further six years when statin use, which was encouraged, was similar in both groups of patients.
Other popular statin medicines include Pfizer`s top-selling Lipitor, which is due to lose patent protection in the United States at the end of this month, and AstraZeneca`s Crestor.