A whopping number of Americans are using statin drugs to lower their cholesterol. And experts say it’s working, as the worst form of cholesterol is dropping. But unexpected data is capturing the interest of cancer specialists.
“These drugs have become more interesting to oncologists because not only are they known to inhibit or block the cholesterol pathway, but they also are likely involved in something called signal transduction which is the way cells communicate,” says Dr. Frank Rodriquez, oncologist on Lee Memorials Health System’s medical staff.
Research suggests statins may influence the ability of cancer cells to multiply and migrate through the body, which could reduce the ability to metastasize.
“Cancer cells can give a signal that lead to growth or spread. These cholesterol lowering drugs specifically are called HMG- CoA- Reductase, they can apparently block some of these signals,” says Dr. Rodriguez.
A study from Denmark is causing the excitement. After following nearly 300,000 people for a number of years, it found patients who took statins were about 15% less likely to die from their cancer compared to other cancer patients.
“It’s difficult to say specifically ‘this cancer benefited or this cancer benefited, this pathway was inhibited’. What they found is that all the cancers people developed, which was 13 different types of cancer, they were all improved,” says Dr. Rodriquez.
More work is needed to determine whether statins truly caused the lower risk or whether other factors were in play.
“It’s possible that these drugs are not necessarily fighting cancer directly but it’s giving the body the ability to survive everything else patients go through. It’s a very thought provoking finding. Especially when you have a trial that’s that big, the odds that this was by chance is actually very, very low,” says Dr. Rodriquez.
So in the realm of cancer, it’s something to be hopeful about.