Long-term use of simvastatin is safe, with no increase in cancer cases or deaths from other, non heart-related causes, according to an Oxford University study published online in The Lancet.
The Heart Protection Study involved over 20,000 patients at increased risk of vascular disease who were randomly allocated either 40mg simvastatin daily or placebo for five years. They then followed up the subjects for a further six years, with two important findings.
Firstly, the “substantial reductions” in fatal and non-fatal cardiovascular events seen among those allocated simvastatin during the five-year trial period persisted largely unchanged during the post-trial period, despite similar use of statins among the surviving study population.
During the first five years, allocation to simvastatin yielded an average reduction in LDL cholesterol of 1.0 mmol/L and a proportional decrease in major vascular events of 23%.
Secondly, during the total 11 year follow-up period, there was no evidence that allocation to simvastatin was associated with “any emergence of hazard”, with no increase in cancer incidence or non-vascular mortality observed.
British Heart Foundation medical director Peter Weissberg said: “This trial gives a very reassuring message for people taking statins. It shows the benefits of statins lasted throughout the whole 11 years of a follow-up study and that there is no evidence of any serious unexpected side effects.
Professor Weissberg added: “The findings also tell us that most of the benefits of statins are achieved in the first few months of treatment. Because of this research, people who are deemed by their doctor to be at a high risk of a heart attack or stroke should be started on a statins promptly and should continue to take them indefinitely.”