Statin Use May Protect IBD Patients

Q. I have Crohn’s disease, and I take a statin to keep my cholesterol in check. Is this a problem?

A. Your statin use might actually put you at an advantage. People with inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) are at higher risk than the general population for developing colorectal cancer.

Past investigations into pharmaceutical approaches to lower this risk failed to yield strong results. Statin use, however, has been associated with a lower risk of non-hereditary colorectal cancer, so researchers decided to investigate the drugs’ role in people with IBD.

Examining data on 11,001 IBD patients in the Boston area, they found 1,376 (12.5 percent) of them had prescriptions for at least one statin. Over nine years, 30 of those taking statins developed colorectal cancer, compared with 287 of non-statin users.

Statin users were also less likely to have surgery or be hospitalized. Of note, the statin users were more likely to be smokers, older, and male—all factors that increase the risk of colorectal cancer.

Bear in mind that the findings, published in July 2016 in Clinical Gastroenterology & Hepatology, are associative, meaning there is no evidence yet to suggest it is statins themselves that actually lower colorectal cancer risk in people with IBD.

It will take more research to uncover exactly what mechanisms are at work. But these findings are encouraging, nonetheless.