A new study suggests that cholesterol-lowering statins, such as the widely prescribed Lipitor, could slow the progress of advanced prostate cancer.
An estimated 220,800 cases of prostate cancer will be diagnosed this year, and about 27,540 men will die from the disease. Prostate cancer is defined as “advanced” when it spreads outside the prostate gland, affecting nearby tissues, lymph nodes or other parts of the body.
Advanced prostate cancer cannot be surgically removed but can be treated by drugs targeting the way the male hormone testosterone stimulates tumors. The drugs either cut off the supply of testosterone or prevent it from binding to molecular receptors on cancer cells. The treatment typically keeps the cancer from progressing for about 18 months.
Statins work by binding to a transporter protein made by a gene called SLCO2B, which helps a variety of drugs and hormones enter cells. Researchers say there was strong evidence suggesting that stains prevented a “precursor” chemical known as dehydroepiandrosterone sulphate that is used to prevent testosterone from reaching tumors. Previous studies have suggested that statins could slow the progression of advanced prostate cancer.
The new research, published in JAMA Oncology, involved 926 patients with advanced prostate cancer. Participants who were not taking statin drugs saw an average of 17.4 months before the cancer progressed. Men who were taking statins saw an average of 27.5 months before disease progression.
While the news is promising, researchers note that the drugs are not without risks. Statin side effects include muscle injury and liver damage that can make the drugs intolerable to some.
Statins can also increase blood sugar levels and put users at risk for type 2 diabetes. The latest studies on diabetes risk with statin therapy have found that people who use the cholesterol-lowering drugs have nearly a 50 percent chance of developing the disease.