Men who take statins ‘are 24% less likely to develop a lethal form of prostate cancer’
- Men on statins had a 24% lower risk of deadly form of prostate cancer, study says
- The overall prevalence of prostate cancer was the same regardless of use
- Researchers believe the lower cholesterol keeps cancer growth at bay
Men who are on statins have a 24 per cent lower risk of a deadly form of prostate cancer, a study suggests.
Scientists followed more than 44,000 British men over more than two decades, some of which took the cholesterol-lowering pills.
The overall prevalence of prostate cancer was the same regardless of whether or not men took statins.
However, statins appeared to protect against a more aggressive and incurable type of prostate cancer – known as PTEN-null cancer – which spreads to other organs.
The researchers, from Queen’s University Belfast, suggested this is because statins reduce inflammation and increase immunity levels in the prostates.
It backs up a slew of recent studies which have shown that patients taking statins are less likely to die from cancer.
Men who are on cholesterol-lowering statins have a 24 per cent lower risk of a deadly form of prostate cancer, a study suggests (stock image)
This is the first research to specifically assess how the drugs might affect prostate cancer, published in the journal Clinical Cancer Research.
Prostate cancer is the most common cancer for men with almost 48,000 diagnoses a year in the UK and more than 1.2million worldwide.
Lead author Dr Emma Allott said: ‘Some prostate cancers are slow growing and will not affect the man over the course of his lifetime, but others are aggressive and often deadly.
‘My work is to understand the biology driving these different types of prostate cancer in order to reduce the number of men who develop this lethal form of the disease.
WHAT IS PROSTATE CANCER?
Prostate cancer is the growth of tumours in the prostate gland.
Only men have a prostate, which is a walnut-sized gland between the rectum and the penis which creates a fluid to be mixed with sperm to create semen.
More than 11,800 men a year – or one every 45 minutes – are killed by prostate cancer in Britain, compared with about 11,400 women dying of breast cancer.
It means prostate cancer is behind only lung and bowel in terms of how many people it kills in Britain. In the US, the disease kills 26,000 each year.
Prostate cancer usually develops slowly, so there may be no signs someone has it for many years, according to the NHS.
If the cancer is at an early stage and not causing symptoms, a policy of ‘watchful waiting’ or ‘active surveillance’ may be adopted.
Some patients can be cured if the disease is treated in the early stages.
But if it diagnosed at a later stage, when it has spread, then it becomes terminal and treatment revolves around relieving symptoms.
Thousands of men are put off seeking a diagnosis because of the known side effects from treatment, including erectile dysfunction.
There is no national prostate screening programme as, for years, the tests have been too inaccurate.
Men over 50 are eligible for a ‘PSA’ blood test which gives doctors a rough idea of whether a patient is at risk.
But it is unreliable. Patients who get a positive result are usually given a biopsy which is also not foolproof.
Scientists are unsure as to what causes prostate cancer, but age, obesity and a lack of exercise are known risks.
‘Although the findings are at an early stage, we were able to see that statin use may affect inflammation and immunity levels in the prostates of some men as well as having an effect on the characteristics of the tumour itself.’
She added: ‘Our findings are in agreement with some of the known biology of statins but are the first to observe these effects in prostate cancer.’
The scientists monitored 44,126 men from 1990 to 2014 while recording their use of statins and any prostate cancer diagnoses.
During 24 years follow-up, 6,305 prostate cancers were diagnosed and 801 (13 per cent) were lethal, defined as spreading around the body or causing death.
The team looked at tissue samples from the prostate of some of the men to understand why the statin use was having a positive impact.
They found that stronger activation of immunity pathways in the tissue of those who had ever taken statins compared to those who never did.
Dr Robert O’Connor, Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society, said the study made a ‘significant contribution’ to knowledge of prostate cancer.
He added: ‘While we are not recommending that men start taking statins unless prescribed to do so, this study provides us with building blocks to further explore how statins could be used to combat aggressive prostate cancer in the future.’
Researchers believe cholesterol in the blood fuels tumour growth and encourages cancer to spread and return.
Therefore as statins reduce cholesterol levels, they help to prevent the cancer becoming far more deadly.
Around eight million people in Britain take statins. It is estimated that up to 30million people are on the drugs in the US.
They are thought to prevent 80,000 heart attacks and strokes every year by stopping the accumulation on blood vessel walls of cholesterol deposits which trigger heart attacks and strokes.
There has been growing evidence they also provide other key health benefits, and could even slash the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.
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