The findings come on the heels of other studies showing that statins reduce the risk of developing advanced, aggressive prostate cancer. Statins have also been shown to reduce prostate cancer patients' risk of dying of any cause.
"When we look at all the evidence, there is a consistent and meaningful benefit to taking these drugs in terms of prostate cancer risks," says Eric A. Klein, MD, chairman of the Glickman Urological and Kidney Institute at the Cleveland Clinic. Klein was not involved with the new research.
Nevertheless, it's still too soon to recommend that men at high risk for the disease start taking statins simply for their antitumor properties, Klein tells WebMD.
"Heart disease is the still the leading cause of death in the U.S., so we should be assessing our early prostate cancer patients for coronary heart disease risk factors. It may well turn out they would benefit from a statin drug anyway," Klein says.
Statins and Prostate Cancer Death
The new study involved 380 men ages 55 to 79 who died from prostate cancer between 1999 and 2001 and who had living spouses who could verify their medical histories. They were compared to 380 married men in the same age group who were still alive.
A total of 63 men who died from prostate cancer had taken statins, as had 109 of the men who were alive.
After taking into account other risk factors for dying from prostate cancer, men taking statins were 63% less likely to die from the disease than men not taking statins.
Stephen Marcella, MD, assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Piscataway, presented the findings at the 2009 Genitourinary Cancers Symposium.
Further analysis showed that high-potency statins like Lipitor, Zocor, and Crestor were linked to a lower risk of dying from prostate cancer even more than weaker statins like Mevacor, Pravachol, and Lescol.
"The high-potency statins were about 2.5 times more effective at preventing prostate cancer death than the weak statins," Marcella says.
"That makes sense," Klein says. "The more potent the drug, the bigger the biologic effect."
That doesn't mean high-potency statins are better than weaker statins, he stresses. "Their primary purpose is for cholesterol lowering and you typically want to use the least aggressive therapy you can to achieve the desired effect," Klein says.
While the studies were not designed to examine how statins might protect against dying from prostate cancer, Klein notes that they are potent anti-inflammatory drugs. "There's a lot of evidence that inflammation contributes to the development of prostate cancer." Alternately, statins may directly kill cancer cells, Klein says.