Statins could cut the risk of dying of cancer by up to half, major research suggests. A mass study of almost 150,000 people found those taking the cheap cholesterol-lowering drugs were far more likely to survive the disease. Experts at the world’s biggest cancer conference in Chicago said they were “very excited” by the new findings about the drugs which are already taken by eight million Britons.

US research found that for some of the most common cancers – including breast, bowel, prostate and ovarian disease – death rates were at least 40 per cent lower among those taking statins. For some rarer cancers, the difference was as much as 55 per cent. Across the board, cancer mortality was one fifth lower for those on the daily pills, the research found. One study suggested the daily 10p pills are “more effective than chemotherapy,” experts said.

Cancer specialists said the findings were extremely encouraging, giving “an added push” for the case for millions more Britons to take the cheap daily drugs. The group of studies did not show statins would prevent cancer.

But the data suggests taking them daily could save thousands of lives, by slowing the spread of diseases which one in two Britons will develop.

Doctors said the exact mechanism behind the “anti-cancer” effect is not established, but the drugs reduce cholesterol, which is known to fuel the spread of disease. Heart disease experts say the drugs currently save around 7,000 lives a year in the UK, by warding off heart attacks and strokes. The new research, presented at the American Society for Clinical Oncology’s annual meeting, suggests the drugs could do far more, saving the lives of thousands more people with cancer.

The 15 year study of 146,000 women, aged 50 to 79, found overall cancer mortality fell by 20 per cent among those taking the daily pills. Some of the most significant differences were seen in the most common forms of cancer. The highest difference was found in bone cancer, where rates dropped by 55 per cent.

Dr Ange Wang of the Stanford University School of Medicine, who led the study, said the findings suggest that a simple daily pill could become a major weapon in the war on cancer. “We’re definitely very excited by these results,” she said. Although the findings from the study came from the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, there was no reason to think the findings would not be the same in men, researchers said.

The study compared the death rates of those taking statins with those who were not. It did not prove cause and effect, but experts said the link was so strong it should be researched more closely. Dr Wang said: “I think it should be a priority given how common statins are and how much their use has expanded, and how prevalent cancer is.”

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