Statins Linked to Lower Breast Cancer Rates, Mortality

Women with high cholesterol who take statins were 45% less likely to develop breast cancer.

The findings from a 14-year study reveal that women with high cholesterol may have a lower risk of breast cancer and improved mortality.

“This is the most conclusive and direct evidence as yet to confirm the link between high cholesterol and breast cancer, a topic that has been fascinating researchers for the past few years,” said senior author Dr Rahul Potluri.

The authors suggest that statin use may be associated with lower prevalence of breast cancer and associated mortality, according to a study presented at the European Society of Cardiology Congress.

“We previously found an association between having high cholesterol and developing breast cancer so we designed this study to follow up patients longitudinally and address the relationship more robustly,” Dr Potluri said. “Showing that patients with high cholesterol have a lower risk of developing breast cancer and subsequent mortality in a longitudinal study like this provides the strongest evidence for a protective effect, which is likely related to statins.”

Included in the study were women 40 years and older with or without high cholesterol.

Data for patients admitted to the hospital with high cholesterol between January 2000 and March 2013 were gathered from the Algorithm for Comorbidities, Associations, Length of stay and Mortality (ACALM) clinical database. Patients were followed up with until 2013 for a breast cancer diagnosis or related mortality.

Of the 1.2 million patients included in the ACALM study, 16,043 women with high cholesterol were compared with an age-matched cohort of patients without high cholesterol.

The authors found that patients with high cholesterol were 45% less likely to develop breast cancer compared with control patients, according to the study.

After adjusting for potentially confounding factors, the authors found that patients who developed breast cancer had a 40% lower risk of mortality if they had high cholesterol compared with patients without the condition.

“Compared to those without high cholesterol, patients with high cholesterol had a 45% reduced risk of breast cancer, and if they did develop breast cancer, a 40% reduced chance of death,” Dr Potluri said. “If a diagnosis of high cholesterol leads to lower breast cancer rates this must either relate to something inherent in the condition or affected patients, or more likely, to treatment with widely used cholesterol lowering interventions such as statins.”

The authors hypothesize that statins may play a role in lowering breast cancer risk and associated mortality. They further noted that previous studies have also shown this link.

“Statins have some of the best mortality evidence amongst all cardiovascular medications and their use in patients with a diagnosis of high cholesterol is likely the reason this diagnosis appears to be protective against the development of breast cancer and subsequent mortality," said lead author Dr Paul Carter. “The results of this study provide the strongest justification to date for a clinical trial evaluating the protective effect of statins in patients with breast cancer, and this is what we intend to do.”

Since these findings are preliminary, the authors report that it may not be appropriate to use statins as a preventive drug; however, clinical testing is warranted.

“Patients with breast cancer who have high cholesterol, people at high risk of cardiovascular disease, and those with established cardiovascular disease should be given statins according to current guidelines,” Dr Carter concluded. “I don’t think at the moment we can give statins to prevent or reduce mortality from breast cancer per se. But a positive result in a clinical trial could change this and it is an exciting and rapidly progressing field.”