ROCHESTER, Minn. — October 19, 2012. Statins, a cholesterol lowering drug, may lower the risk of esophageal cancer, especially in patients with Barrett's esophagus, Mayo Clinic researchers report in a study being presented at the American College of Gastroenterology annual meeting. There are two main types of esophageal cancer: squamous cell carcinoma and adenocarcinoma. Barrett's esophagus, a complication of gastroesophageal reflux disease, raises the risk of adenocarcinoma, the more common type of esophageal cancer. Barrett's esophagus is a precancerous condition in which the lining of the esophagus, the tube that carries food from the throat to the stomach, is damaged by stomach acid.
MULTIMEDIA ALERT: A video interview with Dr. Singh is available for journalists to download on the Mayo Clinic News Network.
Although still uncommon, adenocarcinoma is on the rise in the United States. About 16,000 people are diagnosed with esophageal cancer annually, of which more than 60 percent are adenocarcinomas. Only 1 in 5 patients with this cancer will still be alive five years after diagnosis.
"Unfortunately, survival rates for this cancer are low, so prevention is critical," says Siddharth Singh, M.B.B.S., a Mayo Clinic gastroenterologist and study author. "So these results are supporting and encouraging, but more research is needed before we recommend that patients at risk of esophageal cancer take statins."
The Mayo study combined data from 13 studies that included over 1.1 million patients, of which 9,285 had esophageal cancer. The analysis found statins lowered cancer risk by nearly one-third; the longer a patient was on statins, the greater the protective effect.
Researchers also looked at aspirin's effect on reducing the risk of esophageal cancer. When researchers looked specifically at Barrett's esophagus, patients taking a statin and aspirin reduced their risk of esophageal cancer by 72 percent.
The results, researchers say, support a protective association between statin use and esophageal cancer. Given the high mortality rates of the cancer, researchers say these results support randomized trials to evaluate statins in patients who are at high risk of developing esophageal cancer.