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Breast Cancer Health Center

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Statins: Breast Cancer Treatment?

Cholesterol Drugs Stop Breast Cancer Growth in Test Tube
WebMD Health News

April 10, 2003 -- A widely used family of cholesterol-lowering drugs is being looked at as a potential breast cancer treatment. And findings from a new, preliminary study suggest researchers may be onto something.

The drugs are known as statins. Earlier studies by Khandan Keyomarsi, PhD, at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center looked at breast cancer cells in the lab. When researchers added the statin drug Mevacor, the cancer cells stopped growing.

Was it a fluke? Ekem Efuet, PhD, one of Keyomarsi's postdoctoral students, took a closer look. One reason cancer cells grow so fast is that they lack biochemical brakes that slow cell growth. Efuet found that Mevacor -- and, likely, other statins -- lets these growth-brakes build up inside cancer cells -- making them a potentially useful breast cancer treatment down the road. The current findings are published in the Proceedings for the 2003 Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research.

"We have found out how a well-known and widely used class of drugs exhibits anti-cancer activities. That's an exciting finding," Efuet says in a news release. Other statin drugs that could potentially have some role in breast cancer treatment include Lescol, Lipitor, Pravachol, and Zocor.

The idea of making cancer cells accumulate growth brakes isn't new. Several labs are working hard to develop new drugs to do this. But even if they work, such drugs would be years away from human tests. The finding that statins can do the same thing could shorten the process -- and hopefully make them available sooner for breast cancer treatment if research pans out.

Interestingly, statins have to be processed in the liver before they can fight cholesterol. But it's the unprocessed drug that fights cancer growth. It may be that new forms of statins may be needed for breast cancer treatment. But Keyomarsi's lab is now testing existing statin drugs to see if they fight cancer in lab animals.

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