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Could cholesterol-lowering drugs help men beat cancer?

Category: Heart Health and Cholesterol

Could cholesterol-lowering drugs help men beat cancer?

People who get regular blood tests and lab tests may be more likely to catch and treat health problems like high cholesterol or even cancer. While these two conditions may not seem directly related, recent evidence suggests that there may be a strong association between the two. According to scientists from the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, men with prostate cancer who took cholesterol-lowering statin drugs were less likely to die of cancer than those who did not take the pills.

To come to their conclusions, the scientists examined 1,000 Seattle-area prostate cancer patients. About 30 percent of the study participants said that they were on statins to help lower their cholesterol. When the researchers followed up with these individuals eight years later, they found that the risk of death was significantly reduced in the men who took the statins.

Help cholesterol and cancer?
The researchers explained that individuals with prostate cancer who took statin drugs had a 1 percent risk of dying of the disease, compared to the 5 percent risk for those not on the medication. Scientist Janet Stanford, Ph.D., co-director of the Prostate Cancer Research Program and a member of the Hutchinson Center's Public Health Sciences Division, said that if these findings hold up in subsequent trails, there may be a need for research into whether giving statins to prostate cancer patients would be helpful.

However, this study doesn't mean that individuals with prostate cancer should run off and start taking statins.

"While statin drugs are relatively well tolerated with a low frequency of serious side effects, they cannot be recommended for the prevention of prostate cancer-related death until a preventive effect on mortality from prostate cancer has been demonstrated in a large, randomized, placebo-controlled clinical trial," said first author Milan Geybels, M.Sc., formerly a researcher in Stanford's group who is now based at Maastricht University in The Netherlands.

The researchers explained that the connection between cholesterol medication and prostate cancer mortality could be related to cholesterol- and non-cholesterol-mediated mechanisms. For example, when cholesterol is incorporated into a cell membrane, these cells help control the pathways that influence whether a prostate cancer cell will survive. Furthermore, statin medications also inhibit a precursor to cholesterol production known as mevalonate, and the scientists stated that lower levels of mevalonate may help lower the risk of developing fatal forms of prostate cancer.

Geybels added that while more research needs to be done to confirm these findings, it's important to follow up with anything that may help reduce the risk of prostate cancer death, since this disease is so prevalent. Prostate cancer is the most common form of the disease among men in developed countries, and the second leading cause of overall cancer death.

More on the connection
WebMD states that this is not the first time that there has been an association between cancer and cholesterol. For example, researchers at the Molecular Cardiology Research Institute at Tufts Medical Center found that people who had high levels of high-density lipoprotein or "good" cholesterol had a lower chance of developing cancer than those who did not.

These findings should encourage people to make sure that they have healthy cholesterol levels by getting regular blood tests. Maintaining a healthy diet that is low in saturated fat may also help improve cholesterol levels. Some simple ways people can do this is to avoid consuming too many processed foods, and to use olive oil in the place of butter whenever possible, since this oil contains beneficial monounsaturated fats.

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