Statins are prescribed to patients to reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) in the blood, although new research suggests they could also reduce breast cancer deaths by as much as 38%.
In April, new research revealed that women who had been prescribed statins to reduce blood cholesterol had a lower chance of cancer relapses than patients who were not taking statins.
Dr. Binliang Liu of Beijing’s National Cancer Center conducted a meta-analysis of seven previous observational studies looking at protective factors of lipophilic statins. Liu found that patients who had taken statins after being diagnosed with breast cancer were less likely to die from the disease, especially patients that had been taking the drugs for less than 4 years.
Overall, mortality rates – from the cancer and other causes – was reduced by 27% in patients who were taking statins, with the risk of death from cancer reduced by 38%. However, patients who had been taking statins for more than 4 years only had a 16% lower mortality rate, from either cancer or other causes.
The results of the study were presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology in Chicago. Liu said, “I think lipophilic statins penetrate cell membrane more easily and lipophilic statins have been confirmed have some good effect on the immune system, which may help to kill cancer cells.”
While the evidence seems to suggest that statins can reduce mortality, the effect of statins on patient outcomes is controversial. The meta-analysis performed by Liu does suggest there may be positive effects on patient outcomes by taking statins, and that certainly warrants further investigation. However, the study does not provide any definitive evidence.
To get a definitive answer, a clinical trial should be conducted to specifically look at statins and breast cancer survival rates. However, that study would need to look at survival rates over a five to ten year period. It is therefore likely to be some time before there is a definitive answer about whether statins prevent the recurrence of cancer and reduce the risk from cancer-related death.