Harvard Perspectives on Prostate Disease

Might cholesterol-lowering drugs drop prostate cancer risk, too?

Several studies come to optimistic conclusions

As a group, the six statin drugs are the best-selling prescription medications in the United States. It's no surprise, since heart disease remains America's leading cause of death. Statin therapy reduces the risk of heart attacks and other clinical manifestations of coronary artery disease by at least 21%, with most of the benefit going to men at high risk.

All the statins lower LDL ("bad") cholesterol by inhibiting HMG-CoA reductase, the enzyme that liver cells use to manufacture cholesterol (see Figure 1). The drugs also trick the liver into removing cholesterol from the bloodstream, adding to the cholesterol-lowering benefit. In addition, the statins produce a modest elevation in HDL ("good") cholesterol and lower blood triglyceride levels. (For a complete list of statin medications and their side effects, see Table 1.)

Figure 1: How statins work

illustration of how statins block cholesterol in cells

Most of the cholesterol circulating in your blood has been made by your liver, not digested from the food you eat. An enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase plays a key role in determining how much cholesterol the liver makes.

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