Statins may cut death rate from common cancers
Statins may significantly cut the risk of dying from four of the most common cancers, evidence suggests.
Scientists found "striking" reductions in death rate among cancer patients diagnosed with high cholesterol.
Treatment with the cholesterol-lowering drugs taken by millions of people in the UK is the most likely explanation, they believe.
A high cholesterol diagnosis was associated with a 43% lower risk of dying from breast cancer, 47% from prostate cancer, 30% from bowel cancer and 22% from lung cancer.
The findings support previous research indicating that statins may offer protection to cancer patients.
A study published last month in the journal Breast Cancer Research showed that breast cancers can manufacture a tumour-boosting molecule from cholesterol.
Dr Paul Carter, from Aston University in Birmingham, UK, who presented the new findings at a meeting of heart experts in Florence, Italy, said: "Our research suggests that there's something about having a high cholesterol diagnosis that improves survival and the extent to which it did that was quite striking in the four cancers studied.
"Based on previous research we think there's a very strong possibility that statins are producing this effect."
He added: "These findings are likely to be seen in other cancers as well but this is only speculation and would need to be confirmed by studies in different types of cancer."
The scientists analysed the health records of almost a million cancer patients admitted to UK hospitals over a 14-year period between January 2000 and March 2013.
Clinical information was compared with mortality data obtained from the Office for National Statistics.
Out of a total of 929,552 patients, 7,997 had lung cancer, 5,481 breast cancer, 4,629 prostate cancer, and 4,570 bowel cancer.
After adjusting for factors which might influence life span, including age, gender, ethnicity, and the ten most common causes of death, the scientists found that patients were less likely to die if they had a diagnosis of high cholesterol as well as cancer.
Dr Rahul Potluri, founder of the ACALM (Algorithm for Comorbidities, Associations, Length of stay and Mortality) Study Unit at Aston University which conducted the investigation, said: "Statins have some of the best mortality evidence amongst all cardiovascular medications and statin use in patients with a diagnosis of high cholesterol is possibly the main reason that this diagnosis appears to be protective against death in patients with lung, breast, prostate and bowel cancer.
"Other cardiovascular medications may also be protective and explain the varying levels of risk reduction in the four cancer types. For example, prostate cancer is associated with heart disease and these patients tend to take ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers."
The evidence strengthened the case for conducting a clinical trial to assess the possible anti-cancer effects of statins and other heart and artery medicines, he said.
Dr Potluri added: "Patients with cancer who are at high risk or have established cardiovascular disease should be given statins as per current guidelines. I don't think at the moment we can give statins for cancer per se. But this could change if there was a positive result in the clinical trial."
The new research was presented at the European Society of Cardiology's Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology meeting in Florence.
Last month, scientists at the Institute of Cancer Research, London, reported that cholesterol may play a role in hormone-sensitive breast cancers becoming resistant to therapy.
Tumours used cholesterol to produce a molecule, 25-hydroxycholesterol (25-HC), which fuelled cancer growth in the same way as the hormone oestrogen, the evidence showed.
Laboratory tests indicated that blocking production of the molecule could slow cancer growth by between 30% and 50%. The findings suggested that lowering cholesterol with statins could help prevent breast cancers returning, said the scientists.
Lead researcher Dr Lesley-Ann Martin said: "This is hugely significant."
Other research from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, US, published last year showed that men with prostate cancer took longer to develop resistance to hormone treatment if they were taking statins.