Taking statins every day could slash risk of cancer, scientists claim after making genetic link between disease and cholesterol
Link means patients could one day be given statins to protect against developing cancer and to treat tumours
11:21 GMT, 14 September 2012
Pills taken by up to seven million Britons to combat high cholesterol could slash the risk of developing cancer, according to researchers.
Statins, which cost as little as 40p a day, are now being trialled for future cancer prevention or to augment existing cancer treatment.
Scientists at the University of Rochester Medical Center discovered new genetic evidence inking cholesterol and cancer.
The find means patients could one day be given statins to protect against developing cancer and to treat potential tumours.
Genetic link: Statins, which cost as little as 40p a day, are now being trialled for future cancer prevention or to augment existing cancer treatment
Lead researcher Dr Hartmut Land said: 'Scientifically it is very satisfying to have data that support longstanding ideas about cholesterol in the context of cancer.
'Our paper provides a rationale for cholesterol targeting as a potentially fruitful approach to cancer intervention or prevention strategies.'
Cholesterol is a fat-like substance supplied in foods and made in cells throughout the body. Too much cholesterol is bad for the heart and vascular system.
The research therefore raises the possibility that cholesterol medications could be useful in the future for cancer prevention or to augment existing cancer treatment.
The data, published in the online journal Cell Reports, support several recent population-based studies that suggest individuals who take cholesterol-lowering drugs may have a reduced risk of cancer, and, conversely that individuals with the highest levels of cholesterol seem to have an elevated risk of cancer.
'Cholesterol targeting is a potentially fruitful approach to cancer intervention or prevention strategies'
The cancer-cholesterol question has been debated since the early 20th century, and along with it doctors and scientists have observed various trends and associations.
However, until now genetic evidence directly linking cholesterol and malignancy has been lacking, Dr Land said.
Statins work by blocking the action of key enzymes in the liver, which synthesizes cholesterol.
Clinical trials are also evaluating statins as a tool against cancer, and some previous studies suggest that when used in combination with chemotherapy, statins might make chemotherapy more effective by sensitising certain cancer cells to chemotherapy-induced cell death.
Dr Land, however, urges caution and further study. Doctors do not know the appropriate statin dose for cancer prevention or treatment of cancer-related conditions, he said.
Side effects cannot be ignored either, and little research has distinguished between the responses among people who take statins.
He said: 'The link between cholesterol and cancer is clear, but it's premature to say that statins are the answer.'