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Statin drugs may combat two common cancers

Statin drugs commonly used to lower cholesterol and fight heart disease appear to cut the risk of pancreatic and throat cancer by more than half, a study said.
/ Source: Reuters

Statin drugs commonly used to lower cholesterol and fight heart disease appear to cut the risk of pancreatic and throat cancer by more than half, a study said Monday.

It was the latest in a number of reports to attribute anti-cancer properties to statins, and comes after Saturday’s release in Florida of a study involving 40,000 women that found the drugs lowered the risk of breast cancer by 51 percent.

Earlier reports also have ascribed a protective effect to statins for prostate and colon cancers, though why they may limit tumor growth in both humans and test animals has not been clear.

The latest finding “suggests that these compounds may have health benefits that extend well beyond the heart and may affect the entire body,” said John Johanson, a physician at the University of Illinois.

He made the comment in a report released at an annual meeting of gastrointestinal experts, where Monday’s study from Veterans Administration doctors was presented.

The study involved nearly half a million veterans, mostly men, under treatment from 1998 to 2004.

One part of the study found that statins were associated with a 56 percent reduced incidence of esophageal cancer, after age, gender, smoking and alcohol use were taken into account. A second part of the study found a 59 percent reduced risk of pancreatic cancer after taking into account the same factors.

“The results should be interpreted with caution,” the study said, because the size of doses and how long the drugs were taken were not factored into the study.

Statins combat the formation of so-called “bad” cholesterol — low-density lipoprotein — in the blood. Formulations which include Pfizer Inc.’s $10 billion-a-year Lipitor, Bristol-Myers Squibb Co.’s Pravachol and Merck and Co. Inc.’s Zocor are the world’s best-selling drugs.