Can a class of drugs commonly prescribed to help lower cholesterol levels protect against breast cancer? A study recently presented at the European Society of Cardiology conference in Barcelona, Spain, offers interesting results.
Researchers from Aston Medical School, Aston University, in Birmingham, United Kingdom, determined that statins can nearly cut the risk of the disease in half, as well as lower mortality rates.
“This is the most conclusive and direct evidence as yet to confirm the link between high cholesterol and breast cancer, a topic that has been fascinating researchers for the past few years,” Rahul Potluri, physician, senior author on the study, said in a press release.
“We previously found an association between having high cholesterol and developing breast cancer, so we designed this study to follow up patients longitudinally and address the relationship more robustly.”
The study examined more than a million women aged 40 or more, some with high cholesterol and some without, who were admitted to UK hospitals between January 2000 and March 2013. Researchers compared the development of breast cancer and death rates in the two groups.
Of this population, 16,043 women had high cholesterol. Researchers found that this group was 45 percent less likely to develop breast cancer than those without high cholesterol.
In addition, they found that patients who developed breast cancer were 40 percent less likely to die if they had high cholesterol.
“Our research confirms that women with a diagnosis of high cholesterol have strikingly lower rates of breast cancer with improved death rates and survival,” said Paul Carter, M.D., lead author on the study. “Building on previous research by us and other groups, including animal studies in which statins reduced the risk of breast cancer, this gives a strong indication that statins produce this protective effect in breast cancer.”
“Statins have some of the best mortality evidence amongst all cardiovascular medications and their use in patients with a diagnosis of high cholesterol is likely the reason this diagnosis appears to be protective against the development of breast cancer and subsequent mortality,” he added.
Statins are generally well-tolerated and come with few side effects. The most common complaint from people on them is muscle pain.
Carter said that patients with breast cancer who have high cholesterol, people at high risk of cardiovascular disease and people with established cardiovascular disease should be given statins according to current guidelines.
The researchers noted that further studies need to be conducted and Carter hopes the results of this study justify a clinical trial in the future.