Taking statins to cut cholesterol can help to reduce the risk of developing prostate cancer, says researchers.
The findings back up previous studies suggesting that controlling cholesterol, a ‘key nutrient’ for cancer cells, can have multiple benefits.
Study author Stephen Marcella said: ‘People may be on these medications for their heart but it may be doing them some good for their prostate.’
With colleagues in New Jersey, U.S., he examined the records of 380 men who had died of prostate cancer and another 380 of similar ages.
Dr Marcella and his colleagues collected the medical records of 380 men who had died of prostate cancer and another 380 of the same age and race without prostate cancer or with non-lethal cancer.
Most of the men were white and in their mid- to late-60s, on average and close to one in four of the men in both groups combined had ever taken a statin.
The researchers found that men who died of prostate cancer were half as likely to have taken a statin at any time, and for any duration, than men in the ‘control’ group.
When they accounted for whether or not men were overweight and their other health problems and medications, it turned out that those with fatal cancers were 63 per cent less likely to have ever taken a statin, according to findings published in the journal Cancer.
‘If a person’s on the fence about taking a statin medication for their heart, this is another potential benefit they may have by taking one of these,’ he said.
But, Dr Marcella added, ‘I would not tell a person if they don’t have a risk of heart disease… to take a statin just to prevent lethal prostate cancer.’
Around seven million Britons currently take statins.
Meanwhile some 34,593 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer last year – a ten per cent annual rise.
The illness is by far the most common form of cancer in men and one in nine will develop it at some point during their lives.
The researchers also found that while high-potency, newer statins were linked to a decreased risk of fatal prostate cancer, the same was not so true of lower-potency drugs.
This suggests that it is something about the drugs themselves that lower men’s chances of dying from prostate cancer, Dr Marcella said.
The researchers added that cholesterol is a ‘key nutrient’ for cancer cells, so lower cholesterol levels in the body could prevent more aggressive forms of cancer from developing.
But they said that to prove that statins protect against aggressive cancer would require a much larger study in which cancer-free men, or those with early-stage disease, are randomly assigned to take statins or not and then tracked for years to see how many of them die from the disease.