Statins May Have Cancer Benefits

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Cholesterol-lowering statin drugs don’t just lower the risk of heart attacks. They may also help some cancer patients live longer.

Researchers writing in the British Journal of Clinical Pharmacology tracked adherence to statins in more than 38,000 Australian women with newly diagnosed breast cancer, colorectal cancer or melanoma, three commonly diagnosed cancers. Average adherence to statins was 82 percent in the year preceding their diagnoses.

They found that each 10 percent increase in adherence in the year before a cancer diagnosis was associated with an 8 percent reduction in breast cancer and colorectal cancer mortality. There was a slight, but statistically insignificant, reduction in melanoma mortality.

The women were taking a wide variety of lipid-lowering medicines, but the most common was atorvastatin (brand name Lipitor), followed by simvastatin (Zocor) and rosuvastatin (Crestor).

The study adjusted for age, tumor cell type, use of chemotherapy, diabetes and many other variables. But the lead author, Jia-Li Feng of the Queensland Institute of Medical Research in Australia, said that there remains the possibility of a “healthy-user effect” — that is, that people who conscientiously adhere to statins may be healthier in general, and that this could affect cancer-specific survival.

Taking lipid-lowering medication as prescribed by a doctor, Dr. Feng said, may provide women a better chance of surviving these cancers. But she emphasized that this is an observational study that does not prove causation, and the results must be confirmed with clinical trials.