Lipid Drugs May Cut Breast Cancer Risk
Statins and Other Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Lower Risk by 68% in Older Women
Statins, a type of cholesterol-lowering drug, have been more closely studied for having a possible role in cancer prevention than the other cholesterol-lowering drugs in Cauley's research. Research is now underway to determine if these pills reduce oxidative stress that boosts cancer risk, or activate an enzyme system important in cell development, she says.
But specifically to breast cancer, cholesterol-lowering drugs may affect the way estrogen is metabolized, says Cauley. Cholesterol is one of the main sources of estrogen -- and high estrogen levels can promote breast cancer.
"At this point, we don't know for sure, but there are several plausible biological mechanisms."
And that's why she doesn't recommend that women take a cholesterol-lowering drug specifically in hopes of lowering breast cancer risk. "Ours is a very interesting and intriguing finding, but it needs to be replicated in future studies."
Indeed, says Clifford Hudis, MD, chief of the breast cancer medicine service at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Cauley's study involved women who self-reported taking the drugs, and the study wasn't a randomized, controlled trial -- in which half the women are given an active drug and the others get a placebo, but they don't know which they are getting.
"So you have to take these findings with a little grain of salt," he tells WebMD.
Still, the results are encouraging -- "but not surprising, given what we know about statins," says Hudis. In fact, he plans his own study to examine how cholesterol-lowering drugs impact breast cancer rates.
For now, he agrees with Cauley that it's too early to suggest women take cholesterol-lowering drugs to prevent breast cancer. "There are side effects and these drugs aren't free of toxicity."