A new US review of published evidence from studies looking at the cancer prevention effects of statins, finds taking the cholesterol-bustings drugs may cut people’s risk of developing esophageal cancer (cancer of the gullet).

The review was conducted by Siddharth Singh, a Mayo Clinic researcher, and colleagues, and was presented this week at the American College of Gastroenterology 77th Annual Scientific Meeting in Las Vegas.

The number of people diagnosed with esophageal cancer every year is going up in the US, especially esophageal adenocarcinoma in patients with Barrett’s esophagus, a pre-malignant condition associated with chronic acid reflux.

Researchers are becoming increasingly interested in the cancer-protective effects of drugs not necessarily designed for that purpose. For instance, aspirin has also been found to protect against cancer, including esophageal cancer, although a study published earlier this year suggests the effect is not as strong as previously thought.

Singh and colleagues did a systematic review of 11 studies where they pooled data from nearly 1 million patients, among whom there were 8,613 cases of esophageal cancer.

Singh says in a press statement their meta-analysis revealed a “significant 30 percent reduction in esophageal cancer incidence with statins use”.

When they took a closer look at the seven best observational studies of the 11 they reviewed, they continued to find a significant protective effect with statin use.

The team also analyzed a subset of patients with Barrett’s esophagus, and found in this higher risk group, using statins was linked to a 41% reduction in risk of developing cancer (adenocarcinoma of the esophagus).

A separate study by Mayo researchers presented at the meeting found no link between oral use of bisphosphonates and esophageal cancer risk. Oral bisphosphonates are a class of bone-building drugs widely used for prevention and treatment of osteoporosis. That study was also a meta-analysis that pooled data on 3,570 cancer patients from 42 studies.

Written by Catharine Paddock PhD