According to a new U.K. study, statins, which are widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs, appear to improve colon cancer survival. The study found that overall, colon cancer patients who took statins such as Lipitor and Zocor had a 29 percent lower risk of dying from their cancer compared to non-users.(1)
According to estimates from the American Cancer Society, more than 102,000 new cases of colon cancer and about 40,000 new cases of rectal cancer were diagnosed in the United States in 2013.2 Together, the diseases were responsible for over 50,000 deaths. There is, however, good news about colorectal cancer in the United States: death rates associated with the disease have dropped during the past 15 years, and advances continue to be made in screening, prevention, and treatment.
The clinical study which was published online in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, evaluated information on more than 7,600 patients with newly diagnosed colorectal cancer. On average, the researchers had five years’ worth of patient history to evaluate from 1998 to 2009.
The researchers discovered that for patients who used statin drugs longer than a year, the risk of death from colon cancer declined 36 percent. And for those who took statins for less than one year, the risk was reduced 21 percent. Overall, statin use was associated with a 29 percent reduction in the patients’ odds of dying from their cancer.
Researchers also found a 25 percent decreased risk of death from any cause among the statin users in the study. However, the association seen in the study does not prove a cause-and-effect relationship.
Other studies have found a slight survival benefit in colon cancer patients taking statins, but those studies were small.
By improving cholesterol levels, statins can slow the formation of plaques in the arteries leading to the heart. Exactly how they might reduce death risk from colon cancer isn’t known. Patients need to understand that these are preliminary research findings, which will need to be evaluated and confirmed by other clinical studies.
In the meantime colon cancer patients using statins should feel comfortable that they are not having a negative impact on their cancer and those not taking statins may want to discuss statins’ risks and benefits with their doctor.
1. Cardwell CR, Hicks BM, Hughes C, Murray L. Statin Use After Colorectal Cancer Diagnosis and Survival: A Population-Based Cohort Study. J Clin Oncol. 2014 Aug 4. pii: JCO.2013.54.4569. [Epub ahead of print]
2. Cancer Facts and Figures http://www.cancer.org/acs/groups/content/@epidemiologysurveilance/documents/document/acspc-036845.pdf Accessed March 2014.
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