Statins Do and Don’t Impact Breast Cancer

Breast cancers respond differently to different statins

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Statins are drugs that help lower cholesterol. They’ve been around for decades. They’re cheap and they work. This common heart medicine may also have important anti-cancer qualities.

The recent San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium (SABCS) had a section on statins and breast cancer. Two studies had conflicting findings on the value of statins.

Women with inflammatory breast cancer who had a history of statin use had longer periods where the disease was stable, one study discovered. 

On the negative news side of the equation, the drugs did not seem to decrease a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer. A large data review showed no link between taking statins and breast cancer risk. 

"Tell a doctor about all the medications you're taking."

Statins don’t impact breast cancer risk

For the study looking at statins and breast cancer risk, a total of 154,587 postmenopausal women were followed. They were all participants in the Women's Health Initiative.

Pinkal Desai, MD, an internist in Detroit, Michigan, was the lead investigator. She presented the findings at the SABCS.

The study found that after almost 11 years, nearly 7,500 women in the study had been diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

Researchers found that similar numbers of women were diagnosed with breast cancer from both groups. Statin users and non-users both were diagnosed at a yearly rate of 0.42%

The researchers looked at the use of both lipophilic statins - lovastatin (sold under the brand name Mevacor), simvastatin (Zocor), fluvastatin (Lescol) – and hydrophilic statins - pravastatin (Pravachol) and Rosuvastatin (Crestor).

The study found a slight reduction in risk among women who took Zocor. Other minor risk reductions were associated with lipophilic statins and first-year statin use.

Dousing inflammatory breast cancer

Inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) makes up roughly 3 percent of the breast cancer cases diagnosed in the US every year. This is an aggressive breast cancer that’s caused when cancerous cells block the lymph vessels.

Naoto T. Ueno, MD, PhD, professor in The University of Texas MD Anderson Department of Breast Medical Oncology and executive director of the Morgan Welch Inflammatory Breast Cancer Research Program and Clinic, was corresponding author of the study which reviewed the records of some 725 women diagnosed with and treated for stage III IBC at MD Anderson between 1995 and 2011.

Researchers found that women who didn’t take statins had 1.76 years disease-free survival (DFS). Among women who took lipophilic statins, DFS was 2.47 years. Patients who had taken hydrophilic statins enjoyed 4.88 years of DFS.

The same trend was seen in a measure called disease-specific survival (DSS), meaning how long a person lives with a specific disease. Women with IBC taking hydrophilic statins lived 5.10 years, compared to 4.52 years DSS among women who did not take statins.

Statin use did not extend overall survival in a statistically measurable way.

Dr. Ueno will be conducting future randomized trials to better examine the survival benefits of statin use in women with inflammatory breast cancer.

All research is considered preliminary before it’s published in peer-reviewed journals.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 14, 2013
Last Updated:
January 15, 2013