(RxWiki News) One of the most common causes of death following a heart transplant is cancer that develops years later. Researchers believe they have found a new strategy for preventing it.
Taking cholesterol-lowering statin drugs after a heart transplant appears to offer a significant preventative benefit.
"Talk to your cardiologist about the benefits of statins."
Frank Enseleit, MD, lead author and deputy director of heart failure and transplantation at University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland, said patients can reduce the risk of cancer by beginning statin therapy six months after transplantation and taking the drug the rest of their lives.
Following heart transplantation, skin cancer is very common, but others including lymphoma, and colorectal and prostate cancer also are reported. Previous research suggests the increased cancer link could be related to a transplant patient's immune suppression.
Statins are immunomodulatory drugs and could offer benefits outside of lowering cholesterol. The International Society for Heart & Lung Transplantation already recommends prescribing statins after heart transplants to reduce graft atherosclerosis, or the development of plaque in vascular grafts, a known complication after a heart transplant.
During the study researchers followed 255 patients who received a heart transplant at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland between 1985 and 2007, and survived beyond the initial year. They were followed to evaluate overall survival or the development of cancer.
Cancer was later diagnosed in 108 patients, or 42 percent of participants. About eight years after transplantation, the incidence of tumors among patients that did not take statins was 34 percent compared to 13 percent in participants that took the medication. A similar benefit was found after 12 years, with 42 percent of patients not receiving statins developing cancer compared to 22 percent who took the drugs. Investigators estimated that taking statins reduced the risk of developing cancer by 65 percent.
Patients that took statins also had better overall survival, independent of the lower cholesterol the drug also provided. Researchers suspect this benefit was from the drug's immunomodulatory effects.
The study was presented today at the Heart Failure Congress 2012 in Belgrade, Serbia. The Congress is the main annual meeting of the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology.