People with diabetes run a higher-than-normal risk of developing liver caner, but it seems that taking the popular "statin" cholesterol-lowering drugs may reduce that risk, researchers report.

The impact of statins on liver cancer has been unclear, Dr. Hashem B. El-Serag and colleagues note in the medical journal Gastroenterology. There is some evidence that the drugs may help prevent or slow liver cancer progression, but also that they might promote liver cancer — at least in lab animals.

To look into the issue, El-Serag, from Baylor College of Medicine, Houston, and colleagues assessed statin use by 1303 people with diabetes who developed liver cancer and in 5212 diabetics who did not.

Nearly all of the subjects were men and their average age was 72 years.

Overall, significantly fewer of the patients with liver cancer than those without liver cancer had filled at least one prescription for a statin: 34 percent vs. 53 percent.

The researchers say this is the first indication that statins have a cancer-preventive effect specific to liver cancer. However, they conclude, "These findings need to be confirmed in future studies."