In a 10-year study of more than 30,000 health
professionals, researchers at Johns Hopkins and Harvard
found that the longer men take cholesterol-lowering drugs
such as statins, the far less likely they are to develop
advanced prostate cancer.
"We found that statin-takers cut their risk for
advanced disease in half," said Elizabeth Platz, assistant
professor at Johns Hopkins'
Bloomberg School of Public
Although earlier, smaller studies have linked the use
of statins to a lower risk of prostate and other cancers,
such as breast and colon, this is the first to tie risk
reduction to prostate cancer stage while tracking the
medication use before study participants got cancer.
Still, the researchers caution that data are not
conclusive enough to warrant prescribing the drug to reduce
cancer risk alone because many questions still linger, such
as how statins might contribute to delaying the cancer
process more effectively than nonstatins.
"Additional large studies may help confirm these
results, but we also have some very important questions
lingering as to which biochemical processes may link
statins and reduced prostate cancer development," Platz
said. "Instead of preventing cancer, statins might work by
stalling a tumor already in the prostate, helping to ensure
that it doesn't get worse."
Platz noted that "when cholesterol-lowering drugs
first came onto the market almost 20 years ago, there was
even concern that they might increase the risk of cancer.
Now, we are seeing more evidence that the opposite may be
the case, but more research needs to be done."
Platz presented results of her study April 18 at the
American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting.
In their study, the researchers tracked use of
cholesterol-lowering drugs (including statins and
nonstatins) and prostate cancer diagnosis among a group of
34,438 male health professionals, including dentists and
They found no association between use of
cholesterol-lowering drugs and whether or not men were
diagnosed with early, curable forms of prostate cancer. But
they did find that men who took cholesterol-lowering
medications, as opposed to those not taking them, had half
the risk of eventually developing advanced prostate cancers
(283 men had cancer that invaded nearby tissue, had spread
to other parts of the body or was fatal) and one-third the
risk of the most serious type of advanced prostate cancer
— fatal and metastatic (206 of the 283 men).
"And the longer men used cholesterol-lowering drugs,
the lower their risk," she added.
By the end of the study, more than 90 percent of men
taking cholesterol-lowering drugs opted for statins, as
opposed to other cholesterol-lowering drugs. "Since most of
these study participants were taking statins during the
time that we saw the highest levels of risk reduction, we
believe that statins more than any of the other
cholesterol-lowering drugs may have the biggest
risk-reduction effects, but more studies are necessary to
validate this," Platz said.
Statins lower cholesterol by blocking an enzyme that
controls its assembly. There are clues to suggest key
cellular pathways involved in cancer-risk reduction may
include statins' effects on testosterone production, cell
signaling and inflammation. Or the drugs may play a role in
changing prostate cancer cell membranes, which are rich in
Prostate cancer is the leading cancer in American men.
It strikes more than 230,000 U.S. men annually and kills
more than 30,000.
Additional research investigators include Michael F.
Leitzmann, from the National Cancer Institute; Kala
Visvanathan, from Johns Hopkins; and Meir J. Stampfer,
Walter C. Willett, Eric B. Rimm and Edward Giovannucci from