By Shaoni Bhattacharya Statins, hailed as cholesterol-lowering wonder drugs for the heart, may also halve the risk of developing several cancers, suggest results from the largest study so far. Statins cut the risk of developing colon, liver, breast, prostate, lung, pancreatic and oesophageal cancers by about 50% in the study of half a million US veterans. “What we are seeing is pretty much across the board – a 50% risk reduction for seven cancers,” says Vikas Khurana at the Overton Brooks VA Medical Center in Shreveport, Louisiana, US, who led the study. “We are probably looking at a wonder drug like aspirin.” Aspirin has also been found to slash heart and cancer risks. Khurana presented his latest results on statin use and pancreatic and oesophageal cancer risks at the Digestive Disease Week meeting in Chicago, US this week. “We’ve known for some time that statins provide significant benefit to patients at risk for heart-related conditions,” says John Johanson at the University of Illinois, US, who chaired Monday’s conference session. “The research presented suggests that these compounds may have health benefits that extend well beyond the heart and may affect the entire body.” The patients in the study were followed for seven years and those taking the heart drugs, about a third of the total, had their risk of pancreatic cancer reduced by 59%, Khurana revealed on Monday. A second analysis showed that statins also reduced the risk of oesophageal cancer by 56%. Similar benefits for breast, prostate and lung cancers with statin use were unveiled by Khurana at the American Society for Clinical Oncology meeting at the weekend. However, the numbers analysed for breast cancer were much smaller, at 40,000, because only women were included. Halved risks for colon and liver cancer were reported by the team previously. Khurana believes that one mechanism by which statins may have this beneficial effect on cancers is by blocking the binding of oncogenic proteins to the surface of cells. This stops them from turning the cells cancerous and the normal cellular machinery takes over, ensuring a cell dies naturally. But he cautions that the results show only an association between statin use and cancer risk reduction. As the studies are retrospective, no causal link can be made. He says confirmation is needed. The team plans to eventually carry out randomised controlled trials. It now plans to analyse how the type, dose and duration of statin use affects cancer risk, subject to funding. Lesley Walker, at Cancer Research UK, welcomes the research but cautions that people receiving statins might also be benefitting from other health and lifestyle advice. “For me, the real question is: are the statins actually doing something?