Disentangling the Association between Statins, Cholesterol, and Colorectal Cancer: A Nested Case-Control Study

Ronac Mamtani, James D. Lewis, Frank I. Scott, Tariq Ahmad, David S. Goldberg, Jashodeep Datta, Yu Xiao Yang, Ben Boursi

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37 Scopus citations


Background: Several prior studies have found an association between statin use and reduced risk of colorectal cancer. We hypothesized that these findings may be due to systematic bias and examined the independent association of colorectal cancer risk with statin use, serum cholesterol, and change in cholesterol concentration. Methods and Findings: 22,163 colorectal cancer cases and 86,538 matched controls between 1995 and 2013 were identified within The Health Improvement Network (THIN) a population-representative database. Conditional logistic regression models estimated colorectal cancer risk with statin use, serum total cholesterol (mmol/L), and change in total cholesterol level. We confirmed a decreased risk of colorectal cancer with statin use (long-term: odds ratio [OR], 0.95; 95% confidence interval [CI], 0.91–0.99; short-term: OR, 0.92; 95% CI, 0.85–0.99). However, to assess whether the observed association may result from indication bias, a subgroup analysis was conducted among patients prescribed a statin. In this subgroup (n = 5,102 cases, n = 19,032 controls), 3.1% of case subjects and 3.1% of controls discontinued therapy. The risk of colorectal cancer was not significantly different among those who continued statin therapy and those who discontinued (OR, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.79–1.22). Increased serum cholesterol was independently associated with decreased risk of colorectal cancer (OR, 0.89 per mmol/L increase; 95% CI, 0.87–0.91); the association was only present if serum cholesterol was measured near the cancer diagnosis (<6 mo: OR, 0.76; 95% CI, 0.47–0.61; >24 mo: OR, 0.98; 95% CI, 0.93–1.03). Decreases in serum total cholesterol >1 mmol/L ≥1 year prior to cancer diagnosis were associated with subsequent colorectal cancer (statin users: OR, 1.25; 95 CI%, 1.03–1.53; nonusers: OR, 2.36; 95 CI%, 1.78–3.12). As an observational study, limitations included incomplete data and residual confounding. Conclusions: Although the risk of colorectal cancer was lower in statin users versus nonusers, no difference was observed among those who continued versus discontinued statin therapy, suggesting the potential for indication bias. The association between decreased serum cholesterol and colorectal cancer risk suggests a cholesterol-lowering effect of undiagnosed malignancy. Clinical judgment should be used when considering causes of cholesterol reduction in patients, including those on statin therapy.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere1002007
JournalPLoS Medicine
Issue number4
StatePublished - Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Medicine(all)


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