Statins and prostate cancer death

Men who suffer from prostate cancer are statistically significantly less likely to die from their cancer if they are taking cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins. The study, led by researchers from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Centre, have published their findings online in The Prostate.

The study was led by Janet L. Stanford, Ph.D., co-director of the Prostate Cancer Research Program. It followed about 1000 USA prostate cancer patients over almost eight years. Approximately 30 per cent of the 1000 participants in the study were taking statin drugs to control their cholesterol. Over the eight-year period, the researchers found that the risk of death from prostate cancer in those not taking statins was five per cent. In those taking statins the risk of death caused by prostate cancer was only one per cent.

The study is unusual, as most research on the impact of statins on prostate cancer patients looks at the effect of the cholesterol-lowering drugs on a man’s PSA level. A study which looks at death rates required a much longer follow-up period. Dr Stanford is hopeful, however, that her research will prompt further studies. “If the results of our study are validated in other patient cohorts with extended follow-up for cause-specific death, an intervention trial of statin drugs in prostate cancer patients may be justified.”

Researchers are not yet sure what the medical reason behind the lowered death rate when taking statins will prove to be, but they have some strong theories. The first is that cells which are high in cholesterol play a key role in controlling pathways associated with the survival of prostate cancer cells in the body. More cholesterol-rich cells in the body means higher survival rates for cancer cells.  The second possibility is that statins inhibit an essential precursor to cholesterol production, known as mevalonate. Lower levels of mevalonate in the body may reduce the risk of fatal prostate cancer. It may also be that these two mechanisms are working together to prevent fatal prostate cancer, but further study will be required.

You can find out more at the ScienceDaily website