Statins may stop prostate cancer’s return

Nancy Ferrari

Senior editor, Harvard Health

Taking cholesterol-lowering drugs may prevent prostate cancer recurrence in men who undergo surgery for the disease, a study in Cancer suggests.

Researchers followed 1,319 men who had a radical prostatectomy at one of four Veterans’ Administration hospitals; 236 of these patients were taking statins at the time of the surgery. Statin users tended to be Caucasian, older, and more overweight than nonusers. But even after adjusting for those factors, men who took the drugs were 30% less likely to experience a relapse than those who did not take the drugs. Researchers defined recurrence as a rise in prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels of 0.2 ng/ml.

The statin dose appeared to make a difference as well. Twenty-milligram (mg) doses reduced the recurrence risk by 43% while doses greater than 20 mg slashed the risk by 50%. Patients taking less than 20 mg did not see any benefit in keeping prostate cancer at bay.

Previous studies about statin therapy and prostate cancer risk have arrived at varying conclusions, but many have found that statins reduce disease risk, its severity, or its recurrence. Several mechanisms have been identified; they involve altering the expression of cancer genes, affecting the growth of blood vessels or the ability of cancer cells to adhere and spread, and promoting apoptosis, cell death by suicide. Some results also suggest that statins may strengthen the effects of standard cancer drugs or radiation.

Of note, researchers did not collect information about patients’ diet and exercise habits or their smoking history, making it unclear if statins alone affected the risk of cancer recurrence. The study size was also relatively small. For those reasons, it’s too soon to draw any solid conclusions about the potential impact of statins on prostate cancer or to prescribe statin therapy to prevent the disease or its recurrence. Still, men who need a statin to protect their hearts may be pleased to learn that prostate protection is a possible “side effect.”

Source: Hamilton RJ, Banez LL, Aronson WJ, et al. Statin Medication Use and the Risk of Biochemical Recurrence After Radical Prostatectomy. Cancer 2010;116:3389–98. PMID: 20586112.

Originally published September 2010; last reviewed February 24, 2011.

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