Cholesterol Meds May Lower Cancer Deaths

Prostate cancer mortality lowered in men who took statins before and after diagnosis

November 4, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

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(dailyRx News) Cholesterol lowering medications called statins are among the most commonly prescribed medicines in the US. New research is suggesting these medications may lower more than cholesterol in prostate cancer patients.

A large study has found that men who took statins after their prostate cancer diagnosis were less likely to die than men who didn’t take statins.

The protective effects of statins were even greater in men who took them before and after being diagnosed with prostate cancer.

"Learn about the latest findings on the medications you’re taking."

This large population-based study was conducted by Oriana Yu, MD, a physician scientist at the Centre for Clinical Epidemiology of the Lady Davis Institute at the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, and colleagues to assess the link between statin use and prostate cancer-specific, as well as all-cause death risks.

Statins are used to lower cholesterol and are sold under a number of brand names, including Lipitor (atorvastatin), Crestor (rosuvastatin) and Zocor (simvastatin).

The researchers used four large UK databases to identify 11,772 men diagnosed with non-metastatic (had not spread) prostate cancer between April 1, 1998 and December 31, 2009. The men were followed until October 1, 2012, an average of 4.4 years.

The men were an average age of just over 71 at the time they enrolled in the study. All participants were a year out from their prostate cancer diagnosis.

Participants who took statins, the researchers found, had other health conditions in addition to prostate cancer, and were more likely to be taking aspirin, diabetes medication and medications to treat high blood pressure than men who didn't take statins.

During the study, 3,499 men died, with 1,791 of the deaths caused by prostate cancer.

Upon analysis, the researchers learned the following:

  • Men who took statins following their diagnosis had a 24 percent reduced risk of dying from prostate cancer and a 14 percent reduced risk of dying from any cause than men who didn’t use statins.
  • Statin use before diagnosis decreased prostate cancer-specific cancer death risks by 45 percent and all-cause death risks by 34 percent.
  • Starting statin use only after diagnosis reduced cancer-specific death risks by 18 percent and all-cause death risks by 9 percent.
  • Post-diagnostic statin use was associated with a 23 percent reduced risk of distant metastasis.

"Overall, the use of statins after diagnosis was associated with a decreased risk in prostate cancer mortality. However, this effect was stronger in patients who also used statins before diagnosis,” the authors wrote.

“The findings are provocative; however, results from retrospective analyses such as this always must be interpreted with caution,” Alexander Kutikov, MD, associate professor of urologic surgical oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, PA, told dailyRx News.

“Numerous unmeasured confounders can significantly bias results of such investigations (i.e., differences between groups of patients who did and did not take statins that affect results but are not reflected by the available data),” Dr. Kutikov explained.

“Only if prospective randomized trials confirm these findings should statins be recommended to patients who are diagnosed with prostate cancer. As the authors point out, such trials should be conducted only if these results are confirmed by other robust observational data,” said Dr. Kutikov, who was not involved in the study.

Findings from this research were published November 4 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

The Canadian Institutes of Health Research funded the research.

One author has served as a consultant to various pharmaceutical companies.

Review Date: 
November 4, 2013
Last Updated:
November 4, 2013