A study carried out by scientists at Aston Medical School in Birmingham indicates that cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins could significantly reduce mortality rates among cancer patients. Researchers analyzed health records of nearly one million cancer patients admitted to hospitals in the United Kingdom between January 2000 and March 2013, as well as information obtained from the Office for National Statistics. They found that a diagnosis of high cholesterol was associated with a lower risk of dying from the four most common types of cancers.
Analysis of the hospital data revealed that high cholesterol was correlated with a 43 percent lower risk of death for patients with breast cancer and a 47 percent lower risk of death for patients with prostate cancer. Patients with bowel cancer and lung cancer had a 30 and 22 percent lower risk of death respectively.
Statins are a class of drug that lower cholesterol by decreasing the amount of cholesterol manufactured in the liver. Since the early 1990s, they have been prescribed to millions of patients to reduce the risk of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
According to the study’s senior author, Dr. Dr. Rahul Potluri of Aston Medical School, “Statins have some of the best mortality evidence among all cardiovascular medications, and statin use in patients with a diagnosis of high cholesterol is possibly the main reason that this diagnosis appears to be protective against death in patients with lung, breast, prostate, and bowel cancer.”
However, there is no direct evidence showing statin use is responsible for this decreased mortality risk, Dr.Potluri explained. Other factors could easily be involved. “The results of this study strengthen the argument for a clinical trial evaluating the possible protective effect of statins and other routinely used cardiovascular medications such as aspirin, blood pressure medications, beta-blockers, and ACE inhibitors in patients with cancer,” he said.
Speaking at a recent cardiovascular conference, Dr Paul Carter, a researcher from Aston University in Birmingham, U.K., added, “Our research suggests that there’s something about having a high cholesterol diagnosis that improves survival, and the extent to which it did that was quite striking in the four cancers studied. Based on previous research, we think there’s a very strong possibility that statins are producing this effect.”
“We are very excited by the findings,” Dr. Carter added. “This is a very large reduction in mortality rate and it’s interesting that the effect was so long term.”
The researchers are seeking funding for clinical trials .
Statins are a top-selling class of drugs worldwide, with millions of people taking them to reduce the risks associated with cardiovascular disease. However, there is an ongoing controversy about the ubiquitousness of the drugs, with some experts arguing that for some people the side effects, such as muscle pain and liver damage, outweigh the benefits.
Of the association between statins and cancer deaths, Dr. Mangesh Thorat of Queens University of London, cautioned against making assumptions before research is complete. “Although statin use has resulted in a considerable decline in cardiovascular mortality and emerging observational and laboratory data suggest a potential role in cancer, this study has not investigated the actual statin use,” he said. “Individuals with high cholesterol could be on several medications, and drawing conclusions without carefully analysing actual medication use in all participants is fraught with a serious risk of misinterpretation of data.”