Drugs taken by around seven million people in the UK to lower cholesterol could also slash the risk of liver cancer, new research shows.
Scientists found taking statins on a regular basis reduced the chances of developing a tumour by just over 40 per cent, compared to those not on the pills.
Although previous studies have hinted statins, which cost as little as 40 pence a day, may be able to protect against a variety of cancers, the evidence has been inconclusive.
Scientists from the University of Milan found people who took statins on a regular basis reduced the chances of developing a liver tumour by just over 40 per cent
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance supplied in foods and made in cells throughout the body. Too much cholesterol is bad for the heart and vascular system.
Statins work by blocking the action of key enzymes in the liver, which synthesizes cholesterol.
Earlier this year British scientists found the pills more than halved the chances of bowel cancer.
Some research has suggested statins may lower the risk of liver tumours in patients who already have hepatitis B, a liver disease which significantly increases the dangers.
But the latest evidence, published in the European Journal of Cancer Prevention, points to wider benefits.
It's not clear how the drugs may protect against cancer but cholesterol (which statins lower) is produced by the liver
Scientists from the University of Milan carried out a review of previous studies that looked into statins and liver tumours.
Called a meta-analysis, this kind of investigation pools the results of several earlier studies to come up with stronger evidence on whether a drug is effective or not.
The researchers combined the findings from five previous studies and found that, compared to people who were not taking statins every day, those on the drugs were around 42 per cent less likely to fall victim to liver cancer.
It’s not clear how the drugs may help to protect against this type of tumour.
But it’s known that cholesterol, which they help to lower, is produced by the liver.
The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence recommends doctors prescribe statins to people whose chance of having a ‘cardiovascular event’ - such as a heart attack - over the next ten years is calculated at 20 per cent or higher.
Although the drugs are very effective and generally safe, they can cause side-effects ranging from mild symptoms - such as such as headaches, pins and needles and nausea - to a rare condition called rhabdomyolysis, where muscles become sore and inflamed.
Liver cancer affects nearly 4,000 people a year in the UK with men more at risk than women.
Rates have increased since the 1970s, mostly due to rising alcohol consumption.
In a report on their findings the Italian researchers said: ‘Liver cancer is the third leading cause of cancer mortality and its rates have recently been increasing in central and northern Europe.
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