Harvard Heart Letter

Heart beat: Statins, aspirin affect prostate cancer test

Heart beat

Statins, aspirin affect prostate cancer test

Each year, close to 200,000 American men learn they have prostate cancer. Most find out because of the results of a blood test used to check for hidden cancer. This controversial test measures the amount of prostate-specific antigen (PSA), a substance made by prostate cells, in the blood. A high or rising PSA can signal the presence of prostate cancer or that cancer has returned after surgery or radiation therapy. Drugs that artificially lower PSA levels could, at least in theory, obscure the elevations that offer early warnings.

Two studies have linked the use of aspirin or a cholesterol-lowering statin to reduced PSA levels. In a study presented at the Frontiers in Cancer Prevention Research conference, Vanderbilt University researchers analyzed PSA levels in 1,277 men participating in the Nashville Men's Health Study. Among those taking aspirin, the average PSA was nearly 9% lower than among those not taking aspirin. In the second study, researchers looked at PSA levels among 1,214 military veterans before and after they started a statin. On average, PSA levels fell about 4% with statin use (Journal of the National Cancer Institute, Nov. 5, 2008).

The reductions weren't large, but the researchers were concerned that they could hide important changes in PSA that might interfere with the detection of prostate cancer. Another tantalizing possibility is that aspirin and statins fight prostate cancer. It would take some very large, very long trials to determine if that is the reason for the decrease.

To continue reading this article, you must login.
  • Research health conditions
  • Check your symptoms
  • Prepare for a doctor's visit or test
  • Find the best treatments and procedures for you
  • Explore options for better nutrition and exercise
Learn more about the many benefits and features of joining Harvard Health Online »