People infected with chronic hepatitis C are less likely to develop liver cancer if they are taking statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs), according to the results of a study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.
The liver is the largest organ in the body and is responsible for over 500 functions, including the secretion of glucose, proteins, vitamins, and fats; the production of bile; the processing of hemoglobin; and detoxification of numerous substances. Hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the most common type of primary liver cancer. Hepatitis C is an infection of the liver and one of the leading causes of liver cancer.
Statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs and are the most commonly prescribed class of prescription drugs in the United States. Some studies have suggested that in addition to their cardiovascular effects, statins may help to reduce the risk of certain cancers, including prostate cancer and colorectal cancer. However, other studies have demonstrated little evidence that statins reduce risk.
To examine the relationship between statins and liver cancer among individuals with hepatitis C (HCV), researchers conducted a population-based cohort study of 260,864 HCV-infected patients enrolled in the Taiwan National Health Insurance Research Database. Patients were followed from 1999 to 2010, during which time about 13 percent of patients (35,023) filled a prescription for statins.
During the course of follow-up, there were 27,883 cases of liver cancer in the cohort. Among the 35,023 patients using statins, 1,378 had liver cancer. Among the 225,841 patients not using statins, 26,505 developed liver cancer. After the researchers accounted for patients’ age, gender and other diseases, they found those who took statins were about half as likely to get cancer as non-statin users. Higher doses of statins, as well as longer-term use, were linked to a further drop in cancer risk.
The researchers concluded that among people with hepatitis C, statin use was associated with a reduced risk of liver cancer; however, they are quick to point out that this doesn’t prove that statins prevent cancer. The data isn’t strong enough to warrant prescribing statins for liver cancer prevention; however, the researchers did not find a link between statins and any complications in this population—meaning that doctors do not need to avoid prescribing statins in people with hepatitis C.
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 Tsan YT, Lee CH, Ho WC, et al. Statins and the risk of hepatocellular carcinoma in patients with hepatitis C virus infection. Journal of Clinical Oncology. 2013; 31(12): 1514-1521.
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