Irish research on the use of cholesterol-lowering drugs may cut risk of lethal prostate cancer

New research funded by the Irish Cancer Society has found that men who are on statins may have a reduced risk of developing a more lethal form of prostate cancer. This research, published in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, was carried out by Dr Emma Allott, Lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, and colleagues at Trinity College Dublin and the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Centre.

Statins are drugs that are often used to help lower cholesterol levels and can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease. Previous studies have suggested that statins could have a role in slowing down the growth of different types of cancers. The research of Dr Allott and her colleagues has specifically looked at ways statins might affect prostate cancer, using data from a study funded by the US National Cancer Institute.

Dr Allott and her colleagues have discovered that there were no differences in the overall rates of prostate cancer among men who were prescribed statins. However, men who had taken statin medicines had a 24 per cent reduced risk of developing a more lethal type of prostate cancer when compared to men who were not.

Biology

Dr Allott, Lecturer at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology and Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, 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.

Dr Emma Allott and future scientist Emma Foley (6), from Booterstown, Co. Dublin. Photo: Andres Poveda

“By studying a large group of men who had been monitored for 24 years, we were able to see the link between statin use and the prevention of lethal prostate cancer. We then looked at tissue samples from some of these men to try and understand why the statin use was having this impact.

Inflammation

“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. Our findings are in agreement with some of the known biology of statins but are the first to observe these effects in prostate cancer.”

Dr Robert O’Connor, Irish Cancer Society Head of Research, said: “Dr Allott is part of the next generation of prostate cancer research leaders, whose work is making a significant contribution to our knowledge and understanding of this challenging disease. 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.”