Anticholesterol pills may ward off cancer
June 08 2004 12:00 AM ET
People taking statins to lower their cholesterol and ward off heart attacks may have even more reason to keep swallowing their medicine: New data suggests the drugs also may fight off cancer. The latest evidence, released Sunday at the American Society of Clinical Oncology conference, found that people who took statins for at least five years appeared to cut their risk of colon cancer in half. The study of 1,708 people who had colon cancer and 1,737 cancer-free adults showed that those who took statins for at least five years had about a 50% reduction in risk for the disease. Earlier work has shown reductions in breast and prostate cancer as well as across-the-board cancer risk.
Experiments involving lab animals and cells growing in test tubes both suggest a possible role for statins in cancer prevention. However, researchers seem unanimous in saying the evidence is still too weak to recommend taking statins for cancer prevention alone, although they acknowledge those on the pills for other reasons may be getting a big bonus benefit. The data so far "fit with what we know from the lab," said Monica Morrow of Northwestern University. "But we can't say this is enough proof for people to go out and take statins." To be convinced doctors say they would need to see a carefully controlled experiment designed specifically to show that statins reduce cancer risk. The data so far are based largely on watching what happens to people who go on statins for reasons that have nothing to do with cancer. If statins do lower the risk of cancer, scientists say, it may have nothing to do with their effect on cholesterol. One theory is that statins could ward off the disease by lowering inflammation. Another is that their primary job reducing an enzyme called HMG-CoA could block the working of some cancer-causing genes. (AP)