DECEMBER 01, 2006

Statins May Protect Smokers' Lungs

A study presented at the American College of Chest Physicians' annual meeting in October 2006 showed that current and former smokers who used statins to lower their cholesterol had less decline in lung function than those who did not take statins, suggesting that statins may protect smokers from serious lung damage. Researchers from the University of Oklahoma in Oklahoma City studied 182 current smokers and 303 former smokers, with an average age of 66 years; of the total, 238 received statins. Of all the participants, 319 had obstructive lung disease (LD), 99 had restrictive LD, and 67 had normal lung function.

Over the study follow-up period, it was found that patients who received statin therapy showed less decline in 2 markers of lung function, compared with those who did not receive statins. Researchers stated that the difference was "highly significant," and they also noted that patients with obstructive LD who used statins had a 35% drop in the rate of respiratory-related hospitalizations and emergency room visits. Lead researcher Walid G. Younis, MD, warned, however, that they found "no difference in lung cancer or in mortality between the patients who smoked and were on statins or not on statins."

Healthy Levels Could Reduce Prostate Cancer Risk

Researchers with the Clinical Prostate Cancer Program at Northwestern University's Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center in Chicago, Ill, are finding evidence that might link prostate cancer in men to their cholesterol levels and suggest that lowering the levels could lower the risk of the cancer. They cited recent epidemiologic studies that found that men who took statins also had a lower risk of prostate cancer. Furthermore, these studies show that those patients who were diagnosed with the cancer had a lower risk of having a more aggressive form of cancer if they were taking statins.

One such study was conducted in association with the Department of Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore, Md. The study followed 34,000 men for 10 years and recorded their statin use every 2 years. At the start of the study, none of the men had prostate cancer. The study found that men who took statins had half the risk of advanced prostate cancer and one third the risk of metastatic cancer, compared with those who did not use the drugs. The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

Study Doubts Significance of Ultralow Cholesterol Goals

A study conducted by the University of Michigan Health System and Veterans Affairs (VA) Ann Arbor Healthcare System suggests that there may be no true evidence that very low levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol can benefit people at high risk for heart disease. They propose that these patients should be encouraged to use statins to reduce their risk. Past studies had recommended that some high-risk patients should strive to keep their LDL cholesterol level below 70 mg/dL, even if it meant having to take numerous medications. After reviewing research on LDL cholesterol and heart health, however, the researchers declared that they found no scientific evidence to support the ultralow LDL goal.

"Current practice guidelines and recommendations often focus on getting LDL as low as possible, but the literature to date doesn't demonstrate that low LDL is what is truly important—but it does show that statins save lives in high-cardiacrisk patients, regardless of a person's LDL level," stated Rodney Hayward, MD, director of the VA Center for Health Services Research and Development. The study was published in the October 2006 issue of the journal Annals of Internal Medicine.

Statins Found to Aid Heart Failure Patients

A major study showed that statin drugs can cut the risk of hospitalization and death for heart failure patients with high cholesterol. Past studies had suggested that the use of statins might actually worsen the condition for heart failure patients, but the findings of this recent study "found quite the opposite,"according to Alan S. Go, MD, lead author of the study report. The findings were reported in the November 1, 2006, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Dr. Go stated that the study was done because of the past negative reports of statin performance in heart failure patients. "On the basis of our findings, we would say that if people meet current treatment criteria for statin treatment, even if they have heart failure, you can safely give it and should give it," he said. Almost 25,000 patients with heart failure and no prior statin use were studied. About half of these were started on statin therapy due to their cholesterol levels. The rate of hospitalization during the 2.4-yr study was 21% lower for those taking statins than for those who did not, and the death rate was 24% lower.