Can statins lower cancer patients' mortality risk?

By John Murphy, MDLinx
Published July 8, 2016

Key Takeaways

Cancer patients with high cholesterol have a lower risk of death, and taking statins might be the reason why, according to research presented July 8, 2016 at the Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology 2016 meeting, held in Florence, Italy.

Researchers reported results from a 14-year-study of nearly 1 million people in which they found that patients with lung, breast, prostate, or bowel cancer had a lower mortality risk if they also had a diagnosis of hyperlipidemia.

“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 four cancers studied. Based on previous research, we think there’s a very strong possibility that statins are producing this effect,” said lead author Paul Carter, MB, BCh, from the ACALM Study Unit at Aston Medical School, Aston University in Birmingham, United Kingdom.

“Because we saw the association amongst all four cancers we studied, we think this effect is caused by medications used for high cholesterol such as statins,” Dr. Carter added. “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.”

For this study, the researchers obtained data on 929,552 patients admitted to UK hospitals with one of the four most common cancers in the UK—lung, breast, prostate, or bowel cancer—between January 1, 2000 and March 31, 2013. These data were analyzed with the Algorithm for Comorbidities, Associations, Length of stay and Mortality (ACALM) study protocol, which also had patient information on high cholesterol. The researchers obtained mortality data from the UK’s Office for National Statistics.

Of the nearly 1 million patients in the ACALM study, 7,997 had lung cancer, 5,481 had breast cancer, 4,629 had prostate cancer, and 4,570 had bowel cancer.

After adjusting for factors that might influence mortality—including age, gender, ethnicity, and the 10 most common causes of death—the researchers found hyperlipidemia was associated with significantly reduced mortality rates:

  • 22% lower mortality risk in lung cancer patients

  • 30% lower mortality risk in bowel cancer patients

  • 43% lower mortality risk in breast cancer patients

  • 47% lower mortality risk in prostate cancer patients

“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 aspirin, blood pressure medications, beta-blockers, and ACE inhibitors in patients with cancer. Whether it is statins and/or other cardiovascular drugs in combination that have an effect on mortality remains to be seen,” said senior author Rahul Potluri, MBBS, founder of the ACALM Study Unit.

“I don’t think at the moment we can give statins for cancer per se,” Dr. Potluri added. “But this could change if there [is] a positive result in the clinical trial.”

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