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Statins Lower Risk of Barrett’s Esophagus

Protective effects especially significant in obese patients

Statins, a class of drugs commonly used to lower cholesterol levels, can significantly reduce a patient’s risk of developing Barrett’s esophagus (BE), according to a new study published in Gastroenterology. Obese patients experienced the greatest level of risk reduction with statin use.

“Patients who received statins had a 43% reduction in the odds of having Barrett’s esophagus compared to non-users,” said co-author Hashem B. El-Serag, MD, MPH, of Baylor College of Medicine. “This is the first study to find a significantly lower risk of Barrett’s esophagus with statin use, independent of other known risk factors. Further studies are needed to examine this association.”

Researchers conducted a single-center, case-control study of 303 patients with BE and 909 controls treated at the Michael E. DeBakey Veteran Affairs (VA) Medical Center in Houston, Texas. The investigators compared electronic pharmacy records during a 10-year period to determine medication use and evaluated the association between the use of statins and the risk of BE.

Their findings indicated that statins may have a protective effect against the development of BE. This association was independent of known risk factors, including age, race, gender, Helicobacter pylori infection, and smoking status.

The protective effect of statins was especially significant in obese patients. Those with a body mass index (BMI) greater than or equal to 30 had a 74% reduction in BE.

In addition, patients who experienced frequent symptoms of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) had a 59% reduction in the risk of developing BE. The researchers also found that patients who used statins for 3 or more years had a greater risk reduction.

It is important to note, however, that the study was conducted at a single VA medical center, where the patients consisted mostly of older men, and so the results may not be generalizable to a wider population, El-Serag pointed out. Moreover, simvastatin was by far the most commonly prescribed statin in the study (94%), and, therefore, generalizability to other statins may be limited.

BE affects 1% to 2% of the general population and is the only known precancerous lesion for esophageal cancer. BE increases the risk of developing this cancer by 10- to 55-fold compared with the general population.

Sources: AGA; July 23, 2014; and Gastroenterology; August 2014.

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