THURSDAY, Nov. 18 (HealthDay News) -- New research supports the notion that patients who take cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins may not have an increased risk for cancer, as some previous studies suggested.

Statins are the most commonly prescribed drugs for people with high blood cholesterol levels, which are linked to heart disease. Brand names include Crestor, Lipitor and Zocor.

"Three or four years ago there was a flare of articles pointing out that statins could produce cancer, and, at present, the most recent studies do not show this, and this is one of them," said Dr. Valentin Fuster, past president of the American Heart Association and director of Mount Sinai Heart in New York City.

This latest study, slated for presentation Wednesday at the annual meeting of the American Heart Association in Chicago, was conducted by researchers from S2 Statistical Solutions, Inc., a company that does economic research for health care-related businesses; the University of California, San Diego; and GE Healthcare, a division of General Electric, which provided the database for the study.

Another recent study, reported Nov. 10 at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, also found that long-term use of statins did not increase the risk of cancer and might even decrease users' risks for lymphoma, melanoma and endometrial tumors.

But while research showed that short-term use of statins had little effect on the risk of developing cancer, less was known about their long-term use.

To get a clearer picture over time, the authors of this new study pored through more than 11 million patient records over two decades (1990 to early 2009) to identify almost 46,000 comparable pairs of statin and non-statin users.

The pairs were followed for an average of eight years.

Cancer occurred in 11.4 percent of almost 24,000 patients during the studied time frame. Non-statin users had an incidence of 11.1 percent, essentially the same as users.

But there is an inherent problem with studying this subject, pointed out Dr. John C. LaRosa, president of the State University of New York Downstate Medical Center in New York City.

"If statins prolong life and you don't die of heart disease, you're going to die of something else," he said. "How are you going to separate an increased risk of cancer caused by statins from the effect that statins have on coronary disease, allowing you to live longer so that a growing malignancy can declare itself clinically?

"I think we may be coming to an issue that we may never know for sure," he added.

Cancer and heart disease are the leading causes of death in the United States.

More information

Head to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for more on cholesterol.