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Statins May Fight Prostate Cancer

Study Shows Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs Slash Risk of Relapse by 10%
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Oct. 29, 2007 (Los Angeles) -- The widely prescribed cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins appear to slash the risk of relapse among men undergoing radiation treatment for prostate cancer, researchers report.

In a study of nearly 900 men who underwent radiation therapy, those who took statins before and during treatment were 10% more likely to be cancer-free a decade after diagnosis, compared with those who didn’t take the medications.

Overall, 76% of men who took statins were alive and without cancer 10 years after treatment vs. 66% of those who didn’t, says researcher Michael J. Zelefsky, MD, a radiation oncologist at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York.

Statins are one of the most widely prescribed drugs in the U.S. They include cholesterol medications such as Crestor, Lescol, Lipitor, Mevacor, Pravachol, and Zocor.

Men With Aggressive Tumors Benefit Most

Zelefsky says men with large, fast-growing tumors reaped the greatest benefit from the statin medications.

While other studies have suggested that statins may help to prevent prostate cancer, Zelefsky says he believes this is the first to show that the drugs, when used in conjunction with radiation, can cut the chance of relapse.

Do men have to be on radiation therapy to benefit? Zelefsky says that no one really knows as he only studied men on the treatment.

"But it could be that statins make cells more sensitive so that the radiation can kill them more effectively," he tells WebMD.

Further Study Needed

Until the findings are confirmed in other large, well-designed studies, researchers say that it's too soon to recommend that men with prostate cancer start taking statins for their antitumor properties.

But so many men are already taking them that it is reassuring to see a benefit when the two are combined, Eric Horwitz, MD, vice chairman of radiation oncology at Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, tells WebMD.

The study was presented at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology annual meeting.

The researchers did not look at whether the type or dose of statins affected the results, although they hope future studies will address those questions.

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