According to new research released this week people taking statin drugs to control the progression of heart disease may be getting the extra benefit of protection from colorectal cancer.
The findings have shown that taking cholesterol-lowering medicine cuts the risk of colon cancer by 47 percent.
But Ernest Hawk and Jaye Viner of the National Cancer Institute say that further research is needed before they can recommend statins as chemopreventive agents against colorectal cancer.
They warn that the window of opportunity to do that research is rapidly closing, as the more statins are prescribed for people with high cholesterol levels, the ability to do tests where volunteers get a placebo instead of the drug "may soon disappear."
The latest results update findings released last June which showed a 51 percent reduction in the colorectal cancer risk among people in northern Israel who had been taking statins.
Statins are the most widely prescribed class of medicines in the United States, with annual sales of $12.5 billion.
The report in June 2004 assessed 3,342 patients, the new findings now include data from 626 additional people.
The research team, led by Jenny Poyntner of the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, estimated that 4,814 people would have to take statins regularly to prevent one case of colorectal cancer.
They say that in a high-risk population, such as those with a family history of colorectal cancer, approximately half as many would need to be treated in order to prevent one case.
A number of other studies released in the last two months have shown that statins also appear to cut the risk of prostate, pancreatic and throat cancers.
The research is in the the New England Journal of Medicine.