Innovating the Medication Industry

Statins slash breast cancer death rates by a remarkable 40%

By Sophie Borland Health Editor In Chicago For The Daily Mail
PUBLISHED: 20:00 EST, 2 June 2017 | UPDATED: 07:28 EST, 3 June 2017

Statins can cut the risk of dying from breast cancer by 40 per cent, a major study has found.

Researchers believe the 3p-a-day pills dramatically boost survival rates by halting the growth of tumours.

They say that in future, statins – which are taken to lower cholesterol – will routinely be used to treat breast cancer alongside surgery, chemotherapy and other drugs.

The findings will be unveiled at the world’s largest cancer conference this weekend.

Almost 200,000 women with breast cancer were involved in the study, which did not analyse whether statins can also help prevent the disease.

Statins also reduce the risk of dying from breast, bowel, prostate, ovarian and bone cancer +2
Researchers say that in future, statins – which are taken to lower cholesterol – will routinely be used to treat breast cancer alongside surgery, chemotherapy and other drugs

It showed that, on average, participants who had taken any kind of statin were 27 per cent less likely to die within four years than those who had never used the drugs.

The effect was far greater if women had taken the type most commonly used in the UK – lipophilic statins. These patients were 43 per cent less likely to die from breast cancer.

Approximately 63million prescriptions for lipophilic statins were handed out on the NHS last year.

The results of the research will be presented to leading cancer doctors and academics from around the world at the American Society for Clinical Oncology conference in Chicago.

Around six million Britons take statins to reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by lowering cholesterol.

But there is growing evidence the pills may have far-reaching health benefits and help fight dementia, multiple sclerosis and several types of cancer.

Yet many doctors are reluctant to prescribe them due to ongoing controversy over their side effects and they have been linked to diabetes and severe muscular pain.

To examine the effect of statins on breast cancer, scientists from the National Cancer Centre in Beijing compiled previously published studies from the UK, the rest of Europe and the US.

These covered data about 197,048 women, including whether they happened to have been taking statins at the time of their breast cancer diagnosis.

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The researchers also compared which of the two main type of statins patients had used – lipophilic or hydrophilic.

Women who had been taking hydrophilic statins were only 6 per cent less likely to die in four years and this is so small it is not deemed scientifically significant.

Lipophilic statins, which include the generic names simvastatin and atorvastatin, dissolve in fat. They differ to hydrophilic statins, such as fluvastatin, which dissolve in water.

The scientists believe lipophilic statins stop cancer cells growing and dividing, through a number of different biological processes. They may also boost the immune system enabling it to better fight the cancer.

Lead author Dr Binliang Liu said his findings suggested that statins ‘truly can change the prognosis of breast cancer’.

He said that in future, lipophilic statins should become a routine treatment for women with the disease.

‘Statins can improve prognosis. Statins, especially lipophilic statins, will become important tools’.

The scientists did not look at whether the pills prevented breast cancer in the first place nor whether they needed to be taken for a certain length of time to be effective.

This will need to be addressed in future research, ideally involving many more patients.

Around one in eight women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime and the illness is becoming increasingly prevalent as the population ages.

There were 55,222 new cases in the UK in 2014 and 11,433 deaths.

Around six million Britons take statins to reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by lowering cholesterol +2
Around six million Britons take statins to reduce the risk of having a heart attack or stroke by lowering cholesterol

Baroness Delyth Morgan, of the charity Breast Cancer Now, said: ‘This study adds to the emerging picture that some statins could be useful for treating breast cancer, but we would need to see clinical trials to answer this question definitively.

‘Despite advances in treatment, some breast cancers still find ways to become resistant to drugs and continue growing.

‘To stop people dying from the disease, we need to block all of breast cancer’s escape routes – and some statins could yet prove a valuable addition to existing treatments to help do this.’

But Professor Arnie Purushotham, senior clinical adviser at Cancer Research UK, said: ‘Further studies are needed to try and understand more about the role that statins can play in treating breast cancer.’

Last year, a discovery by the Institute of Cancer Research in London suggested statins could prevent breast cancer returning.

And in 2015, research by Yale University in the US found statins reduced the odds of dying of any type of cancer by 22 per cent.

However, many doctors remain concerned about the safety of statins and believe the side effects have been downplayed.

There is very little research on the long-term risks of the pills and drug firms have refused to publish their own trials.

Furthermore, some of the leading academics championing the benefits of statins receive funding from these drug firms.

Last autumn, the UK’s two leading medical journals went to war over the safety of statins.

The Lancet published a major study claiming the benefits of the pills outweighed the risks and could prevent 80,000 heart attacks and strokes a year.

But the following week the British Medical Journal warned that statins were more dangerous than previously thought and called for an independent review.

Rachel Rawson, of Breast Cancer Care, said: ‘We hear every day that for many women, fear of their breast cancer coming back or spreading never goes away.

‘So anything that could stop the cancer in its tracks and help to reduce this risk, including taking statins, is worth considering as a potential future treatment option.

‘However, we must approach this news with caution, as further trials are needed to truly determine whether statins have a part to play.’

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