Cholesterol-Lowering Medication May Increase Survival In Breast Cancer

Women with breast cancer may benefit from statin therapy after diagnosis, but more research is needed, one study reported.

Women who started cholesterol-lowering medication within 12 months of a breast cancer diagnosis had improved rates of overall survival (the length of time that a patient is alive after diagnosis) and breast cancer-specific survival.

Statins, which are oral therapies to lower cholesterol, are typically used in patients with or without cancer to potentially lower their risk of heart disease and stroke.

Of note, there have been multiple studies in the past that look at the association between statins and breast cancer, according to Dr. Kevin Nead, assistant professor of epidemiology and radiation oncology at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and author on the study. “Those studies have reliably shown that statins have a beneficial effect on breast cancer cells in terms of they essentially decrease the cell's ability to replicate,” he explained.

“Our study, in my opinion, kind of targets the group that is most likely to benefit (from statins),” he said. “It showed this big benefit in the patients with triple negative breast cancer, and it showed absolutely no benefit whatsoever in the patients without triple negative breast cancer.”

In the study, researchers assessed the potential benefit of new statin use within 12 months of a breast cancer diagnosis using data from Medicare registries of women (66 years or older) with stage 1, 2 and 3 breast cancer.

The five-year estimate of breast cancer-specific death was 6% in women taking statins compared with 6.8% for those who were not.

Data from the study also showed that among those patients with triple-negative breast cancer, there was a statistically significant association between statin use and improved breast cancer-specific survival and overall survival. “Basic research has shown that statins may be most beneficial in these kind of more aggressive breast cancers, and triple negative breast cancer is kind of like your standard, aggressive, difficult-to-treat breast cancer,” Nead explained.

Because researchers solely examined predetermined data for the study, Nead said that next steps would be to bring this into clinical practice in a prospective trial. He also noted that there also needs to be more research done behind the underlying science of statins and breast cancer.

“If the results that we found ended up being the truth, the real answer, to me, what it would mean that in a group of patients — triple negative breast cancer — (who) have fewer treatment options and kind of a poorer response to some very aggressive therapies that are already out there, that we would be looking at a situation where we could add a common medication with limited side effects that might actually have a benefit and decrease their chances of dying from breast cancer, which is a pretty important outcome,” he concluded.

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