Statins linked to a reduced risk of liver cancer in the UK

Statins, such as Lipitor, are prescribed to reduce cholesterol levels and help prevent heart attacks and strokes.

A new study of people living in the UK links taking statins – a drug widely prescribed to reduce cholesterol levels – to a decreased risk of liver cancer.

Although this isn’t the first time that the drug has been associated with a reduced risk of liver cancer, previous studies on the matter have used data from regions already associated with high liver cancer incidence rates, such as Asia. Researchers wanted to examine the statin-liver cancer relationships in regions where there were low rates of liver cancer.

The team of scientists, led by Katherine A. McGlynn from the Division of Cancer Epidemiology and Genetics at the National Cancer Institute in Maryland, USA, conducted a nested case-control study using data from the United Kingdom’s Clinical Practice Research Datalink (CPRD). The study examined 1,195 liver cancer cases that were diagnosed between 1988 and 2011 and compared them to 4,640 control patients.

Their results, published in JNCI: Journal of the National Cancer Institute, showed that statin use was associated with a reduced risk of liver cancer. This was especially true for people who had liver disease and those who had diabetes – two groups at higher risk of developing liver cancer.

Liver cancer is the sixth most common cancer in the world, excluding non-melanoma skin cancers, according to the World Cancer Research Fund International.

The authors concluded that “the results of the current study suggest that use of statins among persons at high risk of developing liver cancer, even in low-risk settings, may have a net cancer protective effect”.

But the drug itself comes with controversy. Statins have been at the centre of a heated debate since they were first available two decades ago, with arguments over whether or not its benefits outweigh the risks of its potential side effects – especially for men over the age of 50.

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