Can statins really lower risk for cancer-specific mortality?

Yet another large, epidemiological study has shown a clear link between taking statins and a reduced risk for cancer-specific death (prostate cancer included).

According to a report on the HealthDay web site, Potluri et al. presented the relevant data last Friday at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology meeting in Florence, Italy. The results come from a analysis of data from nearly 1 million cancer patients in the UK between January 2000 and March 2013 that included information on other medical conditions, including high cholesterol.

Potluri and his colleagues showed that, among these cancer patients, after appropriate adjustments for factors like age, gender, ethnicity, and common causes of death, those taking a statin (e.g., atorvastatin/Lipitor or rosuvastatin/Crestor) seemed to have:

  • A 22 percent lower risk of dying from lung cancer
  • A 43 percent lower risk of dying from breast cancer
  • A 47 percent lower risk of dying from prostate cancer
  • A 30 percent lower risk of dying from colon cancer

However, the authors were very clear (yet again) that studies like this cannot be used to “prove” that statin therapy actually extends life in patients with cancer. There does appear to be an association, but no clear evidence (as yet) of a “cause and effect”.

On the other hand, these data do seem to be bringing us closer to the implementation of the major randomized trial that would been needed to show whether statin therapy really does lower risk for death in some of these common types of cancer — and prostate cancer in particular from our readers’ perspective.

To quote Dr. Potluri:

We need to further investigate the reasons for patients with high cholesterol having improved mortality in four of the most common cancers.

But he was also very clear that:

People with high cholesterol should be taking statins to lower their cholesterol and reduce their cardiovascular risk. We cannot, however, recommend statins for cancer prevention without a positive clinical trial.

This association between survival time of prostate cancer patients and use of a statin has now been shown multiple times based on data from multiple different databases. The need for the trial mentioned by Dr. Potluri has now become increasingly evident. Perhaps it will get done in Great Britain or Europe. It appears that it isn’t going to get done in America.


One Response

  1. On a somewhat related note, here is a New York Times story about a major study reporting declines in the incidence and lethality of all sorts of major illness — with no really convincing explanation of why.

    Could some of the declines in cancer and dementia be attributed to widespread statin use? (I have no idea.) The article does speculate that the disappearance of stomach cancer as a common disease may well be due to the widespread use of antibiotics. (An unintentional side effect has been to largely wipe out H. pylori which can be a significant contributor to the incidence of stomach cancer.)

    On the other hand, there are some researchers who claim that statins are wildly over-prescribed because the ACC guidelines for doing so are all wrong.

    What’s a patient to make of all this? Got me. I’ve been taking statins for about 10 years, haven’t noticed any side effects, and they do keep my cholesterol within the guidelines (along with diet and exercise, of course). I don’t plan to quit. And, if they are having other, unknown, benefits … hooray! After over 30 years of use, they have been shown to be pretty darn safe (especially in modest doses.)

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