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Dr. C. Joseph Bennett, Navigating Cancer, 07/16/13

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Can cholesterol medications lower esophageal cancer risk?

By Dr. C. Joseph Bennett

A few weeks ago, I wrote an article regarding reflux and the link between many different types of cancer. I think I received more comments and emails regarding this article than any other in quite some time.

Reflux is a problem many residents of Citrus County have, and as more and more people know about the link of chronic untreated reflux and various cancers, more and more people are anxious to do something about it.

But could a class of drugs that many people take for elevated cholesterol levels actually cut a person’s risk of developing cancer if they also experience reflux?

According to new research, the class of drugs called “statins” may lower the risk of esophageal cancer, particularly in patients with Barrett’s esophagus, a process of changes in the lower esophagus associated with chronic reflux.

This study was recently published in the journal of Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology.

In this study, researchers from the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. conducted a literature review through August 2012 to identify 13 studies that evaluated exposure to statins, and they reported the risk of developing esophageal cancer.

The researchers found that the included studies reported 9,285 cases of esophageal cancer among 1,132,969 patients. A significant reduction of 28 percent in the risk of esophageal cancer was seen among patients who took statins in this very large analysis of patients. Among the patients in this study who were known to have Barrett’s esophagus, comprised of 312 esophageal adenocarcinomas in 2,125 patients, after adjusting for potential confounders, statins were associated with a very significant 41 percent decrease in the risk of developing esophageal cancer.

While this finding is impressive, it comes with a cost. According to the study, in order to prevent one case of esophageal cancer in patients with Barrett’s esophagus, you would have to treat 389 patients with statins.

Still, based on an analysis of these studies, statin use may be associated with a lower risk of esophageal cancer, particularly in patients with Barrett’s esophagus. If you have chronic reflux, discuss these finding with your primary care physician.

Dr. C. Joseph Bennett is a board-certified radiation oncologist and a member of the Citrus County Unit of the American Cancer Society. Watch “Navigating Cancer” on WYKE TV at 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and at 10 a.m. Thursdays. If you have any suggestions for topics, or have any questions, contact him at 522 N. Lecanto Highway, Lecanto, FL 34461, or email cjbennett@rboi.com.