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Cholesterol drug scare defused


A cancer scare prompted by a cholesterol-lowering drug has been defused by an Oxford University team using the results from two large ongoing clinical trials.

The scare was triggered by an earlier trial designed to investigate whether a combination of simvastatin and ezetimibe would help in cases of aortic stenosis, where a key heart valve is partially blocked.

In an unusual pre-publication announcement about the study it reported that, while the therapy did not help very much in aortic stenosis, cancer appeared more frequently in the treated groups.

The Oxford ‘meta-analysis’, led by Richard Peto, is published online by the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), while the full results of the trial that first raised the scare have been presented at the European Society of Cardiology congress in Munich.

According to Oxford epidemiologist Rory Collins, the cancer fears raised by lipid-lowering drugs have always disappeared in statistically robust larger studies.

But an associated editorial in the NEJM does not give a whole-hearted all-clear to ezetimibe. It raises the issue that this class of drug could theoretically block absorption of other molecules, in addition to cholesterol, and that could affect cancer growth.

Copyright PA Business 2008

New England Journal of Medicine

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