Their findings could eventually lead to new treatments for the millions of middle-aged and older men who experience urinary and other problems as a result of benign, age-related prostate growth.
But researcher Roberto Muller, MD, a urology fellow at Duke, is quick to point out that it's much too soon to tell what role, if any, statins will ultimately play in prostate health.
"It's very hard to predict the clinical applications, especially in terms of considering using statins for prostate enlargement," says Muller, who presented his team's findings today at a meeting of the American Urological Association. "We cannot suggest or recommend statins for treating prostate growth."
Muller and his team used data from a large study of the drug Avodart (dutasteride), which is prescribed to treat benign prostate hyperplasia (BPH), a noncancerous enlargement of the prostate. The study, funded by the drug's maker GlaxoSmithKline, enrolled more than 6,000 men between the ages of 50 and 75. Of those, 1,032 were taking statins.
The study participants underwent prostate biopsies at the start of the study and again at the two- and four-year marks. Comparing the prostate volume of the men, Muller identified a modest but significant reduction in prostate growth among men taking statins.
Specifically, men taking a statin and a placebo showed a 3.9% decrease in growth, while those taking a statin and Avodart showed a 5% decrease. The reductions, however, only occurred during the first two years.
Results Demonstrate Need for Further Research
Muller cautions that his results are from a secondary analysis. In other words, the study that he drew upon was not designed to answer questions about the potential role of statins in reducing prostate enlargement. New studies that specifically address that issue need to be conducted.
"The data are thought-provoking but exploratory only," says Mark Garzotto, MD, a prostate specialist at Oregon Health and Science University's Knight Cancer Institute.
Whether statins will prove effective in slowing prostate growth -- cancerous or benign -- remains far from clear. But even if they do, Garzotto asks, will they reduce the symptoms that many men experience, such as difficulty urinating?
"There's only a loose correlation between prostate size and symptoms," says Garzotto. "A 10% reduction in size does not necessarily equal a 10% reduction in symptoms."
Another question raised by this new research, says Muller, is whether lowering cholesterol by means other than drugs might also slow prostate growth.
"Until recently, we considered age and genetics rather than modifiable factors such as diet and exercise that are now being investigated," says Muller.
"Theoretically, if it panned out that lowering cholesterol reduces growth, we could tell men to start eating more fruits, vegetables, and grains to lower cholesterol on their own," says Garzotto. "That's in theory; there's no data for that."
These findings were presented at a medical conference. They should be considered preliminary as they have not yet undergone the "peer review" process, in which outside experts scrutinize the data prior to publication in a medical journal.