(dailyRx News) They are among the most commonly prescribed medications. Now researchers are learning that the health benefits of statins may not stop at lowering cholesterol.
While there's no established cause and effect relationship, a new study suggests that men who take high potency cholesterol lowering medicines are less likely to have aggressive and fatal cases of prostate cancer.
Stephen Marcella, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, led the population study that compared 387 men who had died of prostate cancer with 380 men who had no history of cancer.
Most participants were in their 60s and about one quarter of them had taken statins.
Researchers found that men who never took statins were more likely to die of the disease. When weight, other health and medications were factored in, a man who had never taken statins was 63 percent more likely to have fatal prostate cancer than men who took the medicines.
The study found that higher potency statins were linked to lower numbers of fatal cases, but lower-strength statins were not.
And while that sounds impressive, there are a number of caveats. Dr. Marcella told Reuters Health, "I would not tell a person if they don't have a risk of heart disease, (if) they don't have hypertension...to take a statin just to prevent lethal prostate cancer." He says the evidence isn't there yet.
Previous studies have found that statins do not lower a man's risk of developing less aggressive prostate cancers.
Stephen Freedland, M.D., a urologist with Duke University Medical Center says cholesterol is what he describes as a "key nutrient" for cancer cells. So it may be that lower cholesterol lowers the risk of more aggressive cancers.
Then again, there may be no association between cholesterol and cancer. "It gets very, very tricky to sort out," Dr. Freedland told Reuters Health.
So, the authors summarize by saying men who have healthy hearts don't need to start taking statins to lower their risk of prostate cancer.
This research was published in the December, 2011 issue of the journal Cancer.