Pills taken by millions of men to combat heart disease could also significantly reduce their risk of getting prostate cancer.
Statins, which lower cholesterol, could play a crucial part in cutting the country’s prostate cancer death toll of around 10,000 men a year, two major studies suggest.
Costing around just 40p a day, they might be a cheap and effective way of easing the cancer burden on the NHS if the latest findings are confirmed.
The U.S. studies suggest that high cholesterol could be a key factor in the development of the disease and that taking a daily dose of statins has a powerful preventive effect.
In the first, men with high cholesterol levels were found to be 22 per cent more likely than those with low or normal readings to suffer a prostate tumour.
They were also 85 per cent more at risk of developing a serious, fast-growing form of the disease, according to researchers at the U.S. National Cancer Institute.
‘Statins may reduce the risk of advanced prostate cancer by lowering cholesterol,’ they told Cancer Causes and Control journal after studying 30,000 men.
In the second study, a team at the Cleveland Clinic, in Ohio, looked at tissue samples from more than 4,000 men who underwent biopsies because doctors suspected they had prostate cancer.
Those taking statins for high cholesterol were nearly 10 per cent less likely to be diagnosed with a tumour and 24 per cent less likely to have an aggressive cancer than men who were not.
The research also suggested the drugs reduce enlargement of the prostate, the scientists told the Journal of Urology.
These findings could mark a turning point in the debate over whether statins, which are among the most widely prescribed drugs in the world, have a protective effect against prostate cancer.
British experts said last night that more research is needed.
Dr Kate Holmes, of the Prostate Cancer Charity, said: ‘There is some evidence to suggest men who have a normal or low level of cholesterol are less likely to develop prostate cancer.
‘However, practical advice cannot yet be given to men who might hope to use statins to reduce their risk of prostate cancer.’
Dr Maria Tennant, of Cancer Research UK, agreed, adding: ‘It’s certainly an interesting and worthwhile area of research.’
Charity Prostate Action warned the latest data is from retrospective research, where patients are asked to remember what drugs they took.
This is less accurate than a prospective study, where patients are monitored as they take part in it.
Chief executive Emma Malcolm said the findings should be taken ‘with a pinch of salt’.
Nearly 32,000 cases of prostate cancer are diagnosed every year in the UK and 10,000 men die from it – equal to more than one an hour.
It is estimated that at least six million people in the UK, mostly over 40, take statins to keep their cholesterol levels under control.