Possible Link Between Statin Use and Improved Cancer Survival

Patients treated for high cholesterol showed improved survival in bowel, breast, lung, and prostate cancers.

A recent study found a link between statin use and improved survival across several types of cancer.

Cancer patients treated for high cholesterol saw an improvement in survival and reduced risk of death compared with patients who did not have high cholesterol. Researchers believe this may be linked to statin use.

In a 14-year study, researchers recruited 929,552 patients from the Algorithm for Comorbidities, Associations, Length of stay, and Mortality (ACALM) clinical database who were admitted to UK hospitals between January 1, 2000, and March 31, 2013, with bowel, breast, lung, or prostate cancer.

Of the 929,552 patients, 7997 patients had lung cancer, 5481 had breast cancer, 4629 had prostate cancer, and 4570 had bowel cancer. Researchers adjusted for factors that might influence mortality, which included the 10 most common causes of death in the UK, age, gender, and ethnicity.

The results of the study showed that cancer patients with high cholesterol were less likely to die than if they did not. Presented at the Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology (FCVB) 2016, the findings showed that high cholesterol was associated with a 22% lower risk of death in lung cancer patients, a 43% lower risk of death in breast cancer patients, 47% lower risk of death in prostate cancer, and a 30% lower risk of death in bowel cancer.

Prior research showed an association between high cholesterol and the development of breast cancer, and animal studies indicated that administering statins for high cholesterol can reduce the risk of breast cancer.

“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 4 cancers studied,” said lead study author Paul Carter. “Based on previous research we think there’s a very strong possibility that statins are producing this effect. Because we saw the association amongst all 4 cancers we studied, we think this effect is caused by medications used for high cholesterol such as statins. These findings are likely to be seen in other cancers as well but this is only speculation and would need to be confirmed by studies in different types of cancer.”

According to Rahul Potluri, senior study author and founder of the ACALM Study Unit, statins show some of the best mortality amongst all cardiovascular medications.

“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,” Potluri said. “Other cardiovascular medications may also be protective and explain the varying levels of risk reduction in the 4 cancer types. For example, prostate cancer is associated with heart disease and these patients tend to take ACE inhibitors and beta-blockers.”

The authors concluded that although cancer patients with a high risk for, or established, cardiovascular disease, should take statins as per current guidelines. Patients should not yet be given statins to treat cancer, but this could change depending on positive results from a clinical trial.

“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 aspiring, blood pressure medications, beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors in patients with cancer,” Potluri said. “Whether it is statins and/or other cardiovascular drugs in combination that have an effect on mortality remains to be seen.”