Statins Lower Prostate Cancer Risk

Studies Also Tout Vitamin D for Lung Cancer, Calcium for Colon Cancer

From the WebMD Archives

April 18, 2005 (Anaheim, Calif.) -- Certain cholesterol-lowering drugs may help prevent prostate cancer, according to evidence presented at a meeting of cancer experts, while other studies showed the benefits of nutrients to fight lung and colon cancers.

Statins Cut Prostate Cancer Risk

In the latest research to show that the popular cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins are good for more than the heart,statins are good for more than the heart, a 10-year study of more than 30,000 men shows that statins may slash the risk of advanced prostate cancer in half.

"The results are promising," says Elizabeth Platz, ScD, MPH, a cancer epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in Baltimore. "The longer the men took the statins, the lower the risk of advanced prostate cancer."

Statin use did not appear to lower the chance a man would develop early cancer that was still confined to the prostate itself, she tells WebMD.

Statins used to treat high cholesterol include Crestor, Lipitor, Pravachol, and Zocor.

Advanced Prostate Cancer Falls 50%

The new study, presented at the annual meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, included more than 34,000 men who were free of prostate cancer in 1990.

Every two years, the men were asked whether they took cholesterol-lowering drugs -- statins or other drugs -- and if they had been diagnosed with prostate cancer. "If they said they had cancer, we confirmed the diagnosis," Platz says.

By 2000, 2,074 men had developed prostate cancer. Of these, 283 cases were advanced prostate cancer, with many of them having already spread outside the prostate.

Compared with men who didn't take cholesterol-lowering drugs, those who did take them had nearly one-half the risk of developing advanced prostate cancer. Risk decreased with increasing duration of use, Platz notes.

So how did she know that statins -- not other cholesterol-lowering drugs -- were responsible for the protective effects?

"We can't rule anything out," Platz says. "But on the 2000 questionnaire, we specifically asked about statins and found that 90% of men on a cholesterol-lowering drug were on a statin."

Plus, some laboratory and animal studies hint of a biological rationale for using the drugs, she says. For example, statins may promote cancer cell death.

Statins Ready for Prime Time?

Smaller studies have shown that statin use is associated with a reduced risk of a variety of cancers, including that of the prostate, but this is the first time the researchers tracked medication use before the study participants developed cancer, Platz says.

The better design of the study is what makes the observation so exciting, says Andrew J. Dannenberg, MD, director of cancer prevention at New York Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell in New York City.

"This study stands apart from previous work that suggested a protective effect," he tells WebMD. "It was really well done. It appears that statin use is associated with a better prognosis."

But until the findings are confirmed in other large, well-designed studies, both Platz and Dannenberg caution that it's too soon to recommend that men at high risk for prostate cancerhigh risk for prostate cancer start taking statins for their antitumor properties.

Another study revealed that patients diagnosed with early lung cancer may want to reach for vitamin D supplements and get out in the sun. The body produces vitamin D when the skin is exposed to the sun.

The preliminary study looked at 450 men and women with early stage non-small-cell lung cancer. Researchers were looking at the potential effects of vitamin D in the diet and supplements, as well as from sun exposure. They compared people with high vitamin D intake who had surgery in the summer months to those with low vitamin D intake who had wintertime operations.

The high-vitamin D group was more than twice as likely to be alive five years later.

While milk and fish are rich in vitamin D, it's nearly impossible to get the high amounts needed for the protective effects just from food -- the equivalent of about 600 IU a day, says researcher Wei Zhou, PhD, of the Harvard School of Public Health.

Calcium for Colon Cancer

Calcium supplements have been linked to a lower risk of colon cancer.lower risk of colon cancer. Now researchers have found that long-term use of calcium supplements protects against the development of potentially precancerous colon polyps for years after you stop taking them.

Dartmouth researchers followed people at high risk for colon polyps who had been randomly assigned to take either 1,200 milligrams of calcium supplements for four years or a placebo.

During the first five years after they stopped taking the supplements, those who had taken calcium during the study were still about one-third less likely to develop colon polyps than those on a placebo.

But after five years, the beneficial effects started to taper off and nearly disappeared by 10 years later, says John Baron, MD.

Show Sources

SOURCES: 96th Annual Meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research, Anaheim, Calif., April 16-20, 2005. Elizabeth Platz, ScD, MPH, professor of epidemiology, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Baltimore. Andrew J. Dannenberg, MD, director, cancer prevention, New York Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell, New York City. Wei Zhou, PhD, Harvard School of Public Health, Boston. John Baron, MD, professor of medicine, Dartmouth Medical School, Hanover, N.H.
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