Is it safe to take Zetia (ezetimibe)?

Zetia (ezetimibe) is a medication that is prescribed to lower cholesterol in the body by blocking its absorption by the intestines. Over the last few years, two questions emerged about Zetia: does it increase cancer risk, and does it actually lower cardiovascular disease risk?

Preliminary data from a clinical trial called SEAS (Simvastatin and Ezetimibe in Aortic Stenosis) suggested a possible link between taking Vytorin, a combination of Zetia and Zocor (simvastatin - another cholesterol-lowering drug), and increased cancer risk. A clinical trial is a research study designed to test the safety and effectiveness of a new medication or other medical innovation. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) conducted a review of data and research methods from the SEAS trial and two other clinical trials and concluded that Zetia alone or in combination with Zocor is unlikely to increase cancer risk.

The second big question that emerged about Zetia was whether it effectively reduces the risk of cardiovascular disease. A clinical trial called ENHANCE (Ezetimibe and Simvastatin in Hypercholesterolemia Enhances Atherosclerosis Regression) tested Vytorin to see if combining the two cholesterol drugs reduced narrowing in the carotid arteries, which supply blood to the brain. The two drugs in combination did not perform substantially better than Zocor alone, raising the question of Zetia’s effectiveness.

The ENHANCE study was a small study looking at only a very targeted outcome: thickness of the carotid arteries. Therefore, it does not effectively evaluate whether Zetia lowers overall cardiovascular disease risk. Zetia has been proven to reduce the “bad,” or LDL, cholesterol. And reducing LDL cholesterol is known to combat cardiovascular disease.

If you have questions about Zetia or Vytorin, speak with your physician. Never stop taking a medication without first speaking with the physician who prescribed the medication to you. Suddenly stopping a medication can be dangerous. Your physician will be able to help you assess if the medication poses any risks for you and suggest alternatives if necessary.