A new study has found that taking cholesterol-lowering statins was associated with a lowered risk of developing colorectal cancer in people with ulcerative colitis. The researchers say that statins, commonly prescribed for heart health, could be used as a preventive for cancer in cases of inflammatory bowel disease.
People with ulcerative colitis (UC) are six times more likely to get some form of colorectal cancer. The main reason for this is inflammation. Chronic inflammation damages the colon cells’ genetic material, creating mutations that may turn cancerous. And it makes viral and bacterial infections more likely, which can encourage the growth of cancer cells.
Now, researchers from the Karolinska Institutet in Sweden have examined whether cholesterol-lowering statins, one of the most commonly prescribed drugs for heart health, might protect patients with UC from developing cancer.
UC falls under the category of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), which also includes Crohn’s disease and unclassified IBD (IBD-U). While the researchers had previously found that statin use was associated with a lower risk of Crohn’s disease, evidence from human studies into the potential protective effect of statins on colorectal cancer has been inconclusive.
For the current study, the researchers compared 10,546 IBD patients, half of whom used statins and the other half didn’t. The majority (69.9%) of participants were diagnosed with UC. After a median follow-up period of 5.6 years, 70 in the statin group and 90 in the non-statin group had been diagnosed with colorectal cancer.
The researchers noted that the protective effect of statins was directly proportional to the length of time the patient had been taking statins and could be seen after treatment for two years. There were also fewer deaths from colorectal cancer in the statin group (20) versus the non-statin group (37), and fewer deaths from any cause (529 versus 719). The protective effect was only statistically significant in patients with UC.
“We think this is because the study contained fewer patients with Crohn’s disease,” said Jiangwei Sun, the study’s lead author. “More and larger studies compiling data from patient populations in many countries will probably be needed to achieve statistical significance for Crohn’s disease.”
The researchers say their findings provide solid evidence that statins could be an effective prophylactic for colorectal cancer in people with IBD, but recognize that more studies are required.
“More studies are needed to ascertain if there is a causal 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,” said Sun.
The study was published in the journal eClinical Medicine.
Source: Karolinska Institutet