Fat-soluble statins can prevent liver cancer and reduce mortality in patients with chronic viral hepatitis. These are findings from a study conducted by researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden, among others. The study is published in Annals of Internal Medicine.

Chronic viral hepatitis (hepatitis B and C) are severe conditions with an increased risk of liver cancer. Currently, it is possible to treat hepatitis B and cure hepatitis C but there is no treatment that can prevent liver cancer in people whose liver has been damaged by hepatitis.

In recent years, researchers have begun to investigate whether statins, which lower cholesterol levels and are primarily used to prevent cardiovascular disease, can also prevent liver cancer. Statins are either fat-soluble (lipophilic) or water-soluble (hydrophilic), but the role that this difference plays for potentially preventing cancer has been unclear.

In the study in question, more than 63,000 patients with chronic hepatitis B and C were identified. Among these, 8,334 patients used statins, of which 6,554 used fat-soluble statins (e.g. atorvastatin, simvastatin, fluvastatin, lovastatin) and 1,780 used water-soluble statins (e.g. pravastatin, rosuvastatin).

During a 10-year follow-up period, liver cancer developed in 3.3 per cent of the patients with fat-soluble statins compared with 8.1 per cent of the patients without statins. After other factors were taken into account, this corresponded to a 44 per cent lower risk of liver cancer. Patients with fat-soluble statins also had a lower mortality rate after ten years than patients who had never used statins.

“Previous research has indicated that statins may play a role in preventing liver cancer. Now we have confirmed that and shown that it is the fat-soluble statins that have the greatest effect,” says Jonas F. Ludvigsson, Professor at the Department of Medical Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Karolinska Institutet.

The patients who used water-soluble statins also had a lower mortality rate but did not have a reduced incidence of liver cancer. In addition, fat-soluble statins had a greater effect on mortality than water-soluble statins had. The research group is now going to study whether fat-soluble statins can affect the risk of liver cancer and mortality in conjunction with other types of liver disease as well.

Source: Karolinska Institutet
Full bibliographic information

“Lipophilic Statins and Risk of Hepatocellular Carcinoma and Mortality in Patients with Chronic Viral Hepatitis: Results from A Nationwide Swedish Population”
Annals of Internal Medicine, online 19 August 2019, .