Days after a study claimed that people taking statins may be less likely to develop cancer, a new report is claiming that drugs such as Pfizer’s Lipitor, AstraZeneca’s Crestor and Merck & Co’s now-genericised Zocor should be more widely prescribed to diabetics.

Researchers from the Cholesterol Treatment Triallists Collaboration at the University of Oxford in the UK and Sydney University in Australia, have carried out a large meta-analysis which demonstrates how people with diabetes can reduce their risk of cardiovascular events from statin therapy in the same way as people without the disease, regardless of existing cardiac problems. The study, which is published in The Lancet, looked at 14 clinical trials and the health records of 18,686 people with and 71,370 without diabetes, the most comprehensive review undertaken.

The results showed that patients, irrespective of gender or whether they were already showing signs of cardiovascular disease, cut their risk of a heart attack or stroke over a five-year period by about 33% compared with diabetics who were not on statins. Also, if 1,000 people with diabetes took statins for five years, 42 of them would avoid heart death, heart attack or coronary revascularisation, the researchers said. They added that: "Most people with diabetes should now be considered for statin therapy unless their risk is low (as in children) or statin therapy has been shown to be unsuitable for them (as in pregnancy)."

Not included in the meta-analysis were two recent studies that found the drugs did not significantly cut diabetics' risks, but the report’s co-author Colin Baigent said their inclusion would not have affected the study’s conclusion, because patients on them were extremely ill already and few people were included. He added that it makes financial sense to treat everybody with diabetes at least from middle age, because statins are cheap and effective.

n an accompanying article in The Lancer, Bernard Cheung of the University of Birmingham said that “statins are among the most notable triumphs of modern medicine”. However he added that “apart from drug treatment, one must not forget the importance of lifestyle changes, such as cessation of smoking, healthy diet and regular exercise." Worldwide, at least 170 million people are estimated to have diabetes, and this number is predicted to more than double by 2030.