Using genetics to explore whether the cholesterol-lowering drug ezetimibe may cause an increased risk of cancer

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Abstract

Background:

Results from randomized controlled trials (RCTs) have raised concern that the cholesterol-lowering drug ezetimibe might increase the risk of cancer. We tested the hypothesis that genetic variation in NPC1L1, mimicking treatment with ezetimibe, was associated with an increased risk of cancer.

Methods:

We included 67 257 individuals from the general population. Of these, 8333 developed cancer and 2057 died of cancer from 1968 to 2011. To mimic the effect of ezetimibe, we calculated weighted allele scores based on the low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol-lowering(= NPC1L1-inhibitory) effect of each variant. We tested the associations of the NPC1L1 allele scores with LDL cholesterol and with risk of any cancer, death from any cancer and 27 site-specific cancers. As a positive control, we tested the association of the NPC1L1 allele scores with risk of ischaemic vascular disease (IVD).

Results:

The NPC1L1 allele scores did not associate with risk of any cancer, death from any cancer or with any of 27 site-specific cancers. Hazard ratios (HRs) for a 1-unit increase in internally weighted allele scores were 1.00 (95% confidence interval: 0.98-1.02) for any cancer, and 1.02 (0.98-1.06) for cancer death. The corresponding HR for IVD was 0.97 (0.94-0.99). Results were similar for an externally weighted allele score and for a simple allele count. Finally, the null association with cancer was robust in sensitivity analyses.

Conclusions:

Lifelong, genetic inhibition of NPC1L1, mimicking treatment with ezetimibe, does not associate with risk of cancer. These results suggest that long-term treatment with ezetimibe is unlikely to increase the risk of cancer, in agreement with the overall evidence from ezetimibe RCTs.

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