New Research: Statins Might Also Slash Risk of the Most Prevalent Cancer

Updated: Oct. 31, 2023

A Swedish medical study has found that a widely prescribed cholesterol med might be hiding additional powers in fighting inflammation—and that's not all.

Statins, well known for their cholesterol-lowering prowess, may have just flexed an added advantage. A recent study published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal eClinicalMedicine in August 2023 explores the possibility that statins could also act as a protective layer against colorectal cancer, especially for ulcerative colitis patients.

Jiangwei Sun, PhD, a postdoctoral researcher at Karolinska Institutet (a medical university in Sweden), shares in a press release: “Our study suggests that statins can prevent colorectal cancer in patients with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which is a high-risk group for this kind of cancer.”

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Potential mechanisms

What do statins have to do with the gastrointestinal system? The authors of the study hint that while the exact mechanism isn’t fully understood yet, it might be related to the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant qualities of statins.

Given that ulcerative colitis sparks chronic inflammation in the colon—a known risk factor for colorectal cancer—statins might counteract this with their properties. Furthermore, statins have the ability to trigger apoptosis (a form of programmed cell death) and put a halt to cell proliferation. These functions are both crucial in keeping the progression of cancer cells at bay.

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Understanding the data

When researchers took a close look at over 10,500 patients who’d been diagnosed with irritable bowel disease, an interesting pattern started to surface over an average period of 5.6 years. In the group that was using statins, 70 people were diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

This number contrasted with the 90 colon cancer diagnoses among the group that wasn’t using statins.

What’s more, the group using statins experienced fewer deaths related to colorectal cancer—20, compared to the 37 in the non-statin group.

A noteworthy detail emerged, too: The protective benefits of statins started to become clearly visible after just two years of use, highlighting a potential time-related impact of the drug.

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The protective shield of statins

The study indicates that treating approximately 200 irritable bowel disease patients with statins could avert one case of colorectal cancer or a related death within a decade of initiating treatment. However, this protective effect was statistically significant only for patients with ulcerative colitis. Dr. Sun explains, “This is because the study contained fewer patients with Crohn’s disease. More and larger studies compiling data from patient populations in many countries will probably be needed to achieve statistical significance for Crohn’s disease.”

Additionally, statins were linked to a reduction in deaths from all causes in patients with both ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease.

It’s vital to remember that while these findings shine a light of hope, they are not conclusive. Dr. Sun elaborates, “More studies are needed to ascertain if there is a [cause-and-effect] relationship, at what point of the pathological process statins should be administered, what a reasonable dose would be, and how long treatment needs to last if it’s to be of benefit.”

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