Drugs

Cholesterol Lowering Drug Statin Can Extend Lives of Cancer Patients

Statin, a drug used to lower cholesterol levels can also reduce a person's risk of dying from cancer, says a new study from Denmark.

"We observed an association between statin use at the time of diagnosis and a reduced risk of cancer-related mortality," the researchers wrote in the study published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The study involved people from Denmark who were diagnosed with cancer between 1995 and 2007. Researchers analyzed the death rates of statin users (19,000) and compared it with death rates of non-statin users (277,000). The study participants were tracked till 2009. About 162,000 died from cancer during the study period.

Researchers found that people who took statins were 15 percent less likely to die from cancer or any other cause during the study period than non-users. They also found that people taking lower doses of statin were less likely to die from cancer.

Researchers say that when a person takes statin, the body has lower levels of bad cholesterol and so the cancerous cells are devoid of a building block.

"Our hypothesis is that by reducing cholesterol, you steal cholesterol from the proliferating cancer cells... improving survival," Dr. Stig Bojesen of the University of Copenhagen told Reuters Health.

Bojesen added that statins are fairly cheap and so if another large-scale study confirms the findings, people with cancer might have an inexpensive way to extend their lives. "The daily cost is about 10 cents or something like that. It's extremely cheap," said Bojesen.

The study found that people on lower doses of statin were more likely to reduce cancer-related deaths. However, the study doesn't account for smoking habits of the participants that may have a link to the use of statins.

"Because this study was an observational study, the slightly lower cancer death rates among cancer patients who had used statins before their cancer diagnosis could have been caused by factors other than the statin itself. People using statins may have been more likely to use aspirin, which has been linked with improved cancer survival in some recent studies," Dr. Neil Caporaso of the National Cancer Institute told Reuters Health.

Statins are known to help against heart disease and stroke by lowering the levels of LDL or bad cholesterol in the body.  In the U.S., around 30 million people use the drug and it has made over $19 billion in domestic sales.

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