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Statin use associated with reduced risk of pancreatic and esophageal cancers

May 16, 2005

CHICAGO, IL (May 16, 2005) - Cholesterol-lowering statins are associated with a more than 50 percent reduction in the risk of pancreatic and esophageal cancers, according to research presented today at Digestive Disease Week® 2005 (DDW). DDW is the largest international gathering of physicians, researchers and academics in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery.

Statins are primarily used to lower LDL or "bad" cholesterol and to prevent heart attacks and cardiovascular disease. Previous studies have shown that statins have an impact on cancerous cells by limiting tumor growth in human and animal models. However, the potential benefits of statin use in protection against cancer have not been explored extensively.

"We've known for some time that statins provide significant benefit to patients at risk for heart related conditions," said Dr. John Johanson, of the University of Illinois. "The research presented today suggests that these compounds may have health benefits that extend well beyond the heart and may affect the entire body."

Statins Reduce the Risk of Pancreatic Cancer in Humans: Half A Million U.S. Veterans' Case Control Study (Abstract 420) and Statins Reduce the Incidence of Esophageal Cancer: A Study of Half a Million U.S. Veterans (Abstract 622)

Two case-controlled studies examined the correlation between statin use and pancreatic and esophageal cancer incidence in the same cohort of U.S. veterans. Researchers reviewed the Veterans' Integrated Service Network (VISN 16) database, which contains information on all veterans cared for under the South Central VA Health Care Network from October 1998 to June 2004. Of the 484,226 patients included in the study, 92 percent were men at a mean age of 61.2 years, 475 had pancreatic cancer and 659 had esophageal cancer. Approximately 34 percent were taking statins.

In one study, investigators found that the use of statins (HMG-CoA Reductase Inhibitors), such as fluvastatin and lovastatin, was associated with a 59 percent reduction in the risk of pancreatic cancer. In the second study, the team found that statin use was associated with a 56 percent reduction in the risk of esophageal cancer.

Risk factors of esophageal cancer, including Barrett's esophagus, were not included in the analysis. In both study arms, researchers controlled for age, gender, smoking, alcohol use and diabetes. However, dose, duration and the nature of particular medications were not factored into either analysis.

Researchers involved in the study note that these results should be interpreted with caution given the limitations of the population, the database and the retroactive design of the study.

"This research suggests that statins may play a role in preventing pancreatic and esophageal cancers," said Vikas Khurana, M.D., lead study author from the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, LA. "Although much confirmatory research still needs to be done, we hope this will encourage the medical community to further examine statins and their potential benefits in cancer prevention."

Pancreatic cancer is considered one of the most deadly forms of cancer; an estimated 27,000 patients are diagnosed each year, with close to 100 percent succumbing to the disease within the year. Esophageal cancer is three to four times more common among men than women and about 50 percent more common among African Americans than whites. Because esophageal cancer is usually diagnosed at a late stage, most people with the disease eventually die. In 2005, 14,520 Americans will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer and 13,570 will die from the disease.
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Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) is the largest international gathering of physicians, researchers and academics in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery. Jointly sponsored by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD), the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA), the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) and the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract (SSAT), DDW takes place May 14-19, 2005 in Chicago, Illinois. The meeting showcases approximately 5,000 abstracts and hundreds of lectures on the latest advances in GI research, medicine and technology.

American Gastroenterological Association

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