Statins may cut liver cancer risk in diabetics

Cholesterol-lowering “statin” drugs, such as Lipitor or Zocor, appear to lower the chances of people with diabetes developing liver cancer, investigators from Texas report.

Diabetics have a higher than average risk of liver cancer, and some studies have reported a reduced risk of several cancers in patients who take statins, the authors explain. However, the association between statin treatment and liver cancer risk has been unclear.

Dr. Hashem B. El-Serag from The Michael E. DeBakey Veterans Affairs Medical Center, Houston, and colleagues investigated this issue in a large group of people with diabetes; 1303 also had liver cancer and 5212 served as a comparison group of “controls.”

The average age of the study participants was 72 years and 99 percent were men, according to the report, published in the medical journal Gastroenterology.

Fewer liver cancer patients than controls had filled statin prescriptions, the authors report, whereas more liver cancer patients than controls had filled prescriptions for non-statin cholesterol-reducing medications.

Having filled prescriptions for any statin was associated with a 46 percent to 79 percent reduction in the risk of liver cancer. The lowest risk was seen when statin prescriptions had been filled for at least 18 months, the researchers note.

Non-statin cholesterol-lowering drugs did not have any apparent influence on the risk of liver cancer.

This large study in people with diabetes provides “the first indication of a cancer-preventive effect” for statins specific to liver cancer, the researchers conclude.

SOURCE: Gastroenterology, May 2009.

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