Statin drugs, which are commonly used by people for reducing their cholesterol and risk of heart disease, may prevent liver cancer and lead to a reduction in the need for gallbladder removals.
These findings are based on two studies published in the journal Gastroenterology, one of which has shown that statin use is associated with a significant reduction in the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC), or liver cancer, among diabetics.
"Our study provides the first indication of a cancer preventive effect for statins specific to HCC. While these findings need to be confirmed in future studies, we are hopeful that further research continues to show the beneficial effect of statins for liver cancer prevention in patients with diabetes," said Dr. Hashem B. El-Serag, of the Baylor College of Medicine and lead author of the study.
The researchers undertook an epidemiological study in a large cohort of diabetics, whose risk of HCC was higher than average, to characterize the relationship between statin use and HCC and other liver disease. They examined 1,303 cases and 5,212 controls; the mean age was 72 years.
According to the research team, 99 percent were men and 13 percent were African Americans. A significantly smaller proportion of cases (34.3 percent) had at least one filled prescription for statins than controls (53.1 percent), they said.
The study unveiled a significant inverse association between having statin prescriptions filled and the risk of developing HCC.
El-Serag said that there was a trend toward stronger risk reduction with longer and more frequent statin prescriptions, and that the risk reduction observed with statins ranged between 25 percent and 40 percent.
Reduced HCC risk was similar, whether the prescriptions were for simvastatin or any other statin dispensed, the researcher revealed.
Another study revealed that the use of statins appeared to lower the risk of cholecystectomy, surgical removal of the gallbladder, in women.
The researchers behind it examined the relationship between statin use and the risk of cholecystectomy in a cohort of U.S. women participating in the prospective Nurses' Health Study.
They revealed that compared the multivariate relative risk for current statin users, compared with nonusers, was 18 percent.
Compared with nonusers, the multivariate relative risk for current users of general cholesterol-lowering drugs, mostly statins in this cohort, was 12 percent. Among diabetic women, duration of current statin use was correlated with risk of cholecystectomy.
Compared with statin nonuse, the relative risk for current statin use of two or more years was 75 percent.
"Further study, particularly among diabetics, is warranted to evaluate the associations of longer durations of statin use and specific types of statins with risk. Our results should have implications for additional clinical, epidemiological and mechanistic research," said Dr. Chung-Jyi Tsai, of the University of Kentucky Medical Center and lead author of the study.