Reuters Health (03.21.13)
An observational study indicates that taking statins (cholesterol-lowering drugs) lowers the risk of liver cancer among hepatitis C-infected people. Dr. Hashem El-Serag, a liver disease researcher from Baylor College of Medicine and Michael E. DeBakey VA Medical Center in Houston, stated that the study does not prove that statins should be prescribed to prevent liver cancer among hepatitis C-infected patients. However, the study demonstrates that statins do not harm people with liver-related disease, so it is safe to prescribe cholesterol-lowering drugs for hepatitis C-infected people with cholesterol and heart disease.
Since the trials were observational and not randomized, statin treatment might not be related to the severity of participants’ liver disease. The study followed 261,000 hepatitis C-infected Taiwanese patients from 1999 through 2010, according to Dr. Pau-Chung Chen of the National Taiwan University College of Public Health. In the course of the study, 13 percent of the participants filled prescriptions for statins. By 2011, 28,000 participants—1 percent per year—had been diagnosed with hepatitis C. Study participants who took statins were half as likely to develop liver cancer; stronger dose and longer use of statins was also associated with lower risk of liver cancer. However, researchers did not consider other risk factors in the trial, including weight, smoking, and alcohol use. Researchers theorize that the statins prevent hepatitis C replication or slow growth of the virus cells. Additional randomized trials are needed to understand the effect of statins in hepatitis C-infected patients.
The National Cancer Institute estimates 3.2 million US residents have chronic hepatitis C; people with hepatitis C are 20 times more likely to have liver cancer.
The full report, “Statins and the Risk of Hepatocellular Carcinoma in Patients with Hepatitis C Virus Infection,” was published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology (March 18, 2013; doi: 10.1200/JCO.2012.44.6831).