Study Points to Possible Role for Statins in Lung Cancer

Statin use before or after a diagnosis of lung cancer may be linked to a reduced risk of death from the disease, according to findings of a recent study which found that patients who used statins in the year before a lung cancer diagnosis had a statistically significant 12% reduction in lung cancer-specific deaths.

Statin use before or after a diagnosis of lung cancer may be linked to a reduced risk of death from the disease, according to findings of a recent study which found that patients who used statins in the year before a lung cancer diagnosis had a statistically significant 12% reduction in lung cancer-specific deaths.

The study, by researchers at the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, also reported that among patients with lung cancer who survived at least 6 months, those who used statins after their diagnosis had a non-statistically significant 11% reduction in lung cancer—specific deaths.

For the study, published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, data were gathered from prescription and mortality records from approximately 14,000 patients who were diagnosed with lung cancer between 1998 and 2009. The UK Clinical Practice Research Datalink provided the prescription data and mortality data up to 2012 came from the Office of National Statistics.

Patients with lung cancer who filled at least 12 prescriptions of statins saw even more benefit, with a statistically significant 19% reduction in lung cancer—specific deaths. Patients who took lipophilic statins such as simvastatin also saw a 19% reduction in lung cancer–specific deaths.

Outcomes were not different between non—small cell lung cancer patients and small-cell lung cancer patients in this study.

“Our study provides some evidence that lung cancer patients who used statins had a reduction in the risk of death from lung cancer,” said Chris Cardwell, PhD, a senior lecturer in medical statistics at the Centre for Public Health at Queen’s University Belfast, in a statement.

However, he continued, “the magnitude of the association was relatively small and, as with all observational studies, there is the possibility of confounding—meaning that simvastatin users may have differed from simvastatin nonusers in other ways that could have protected them from death from cancer, for which we could not correct.”

Cardwell added that these findings need to be confirmed in additional observational studies but, if replicated, would provide support for conducting randomized controlled trials of statins as adjuvant cancer therapy in lung cancer patients. “We hope to conduct a similar analysis in a large cohort of lung cancer patients from Northern Ireland,” he said.

Possible Benefits in Prostate Cancer, Too

Statins have also improved outcomes for patients with prostate cancer, according to another recent study published in JAMA Oncology.

The study, led by researchers at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, found that men who had been taking statins since the start of androgen deprivation therapy (ADT), went a median of 27.5 months before their disease began to worsen, compared with 17.4 months for men who did not take the cholesterol-lowering medication. The trial involved 926 patients, 70% of whom had their disease progress over a 6-year period.

"This median 10-month benefit in delaying disease progression suggests that statins could be a valuable addition to our current therapies for prostate cancer," said the study's first author, Lauren Harshman, MD, in a statement. Harshman is a medical oncologist at the Lank Center for Genitourinary Oncology at Dana-Farber.

"These results are supported by multiple prior epidemiologic studies demonstrating that statin use may be associated with improved outcomes in prostate cancer but require validation," she continued.

The trial grew out of laboratory studies that suggested statins could delay prostate cancer growth in patients receiving ADT, which reduces the amount of androgen in the body, preventing prostate cancer cells from using it to fuel their growth. Researchers predicated that statins could decrease the tumor's available androgen pool and in turn improve patient outcomes.