Standing in line at the drugstore or Costco might lead you to believe that just about everybody is taking a drug for high cholesterol.
And it's true that drugs to fight cholesterol, such as Zocor, now generic, and Lipitor, which is about to be, are the most frequently prescribed in the nation.
Even now, after all these years, researchers are still checking up on the drugs. And an update to a British study of Zocor, or simvastatin, that got rolling back in 1994 finds that using the drug over the long term is safe and effective.
The researchers said it was reassuring that there was no increase in deaths or illness, including cancers, from noncardiovascular causes in the group taking simvastatin during an extended follow-up period that lasted an average of 11 years.
The benefits of statin treatment for about five years was evident for years afterward in reducing heart attacks and deaths from cardiovascular causes, too. The findings were published online by The Lancet.
At the start of the study, more than 20,000 people at risk for heart disease and stroke got either daily simvastatin or a placebo. In the main part of the study that was previously reported, there were about 20 to 30 fewer deaths per 1,000 people treated with the statin for five years.
The latest update should go a long way toward dispelling any lingering worries that statins might increase cancer risk. That was an early concern with the medicines, but one that hasn't been borne out.
"We now have strong evidence ... that prolonged treatment with statins is indeed efficacious, safe, and has long-lasting beneficial effects, even after discontinuation of therapy," said an accompanying editorial, co-written by cardiologist Christopher Cannon.