Statins for Skin Cancer?

Melanoma drug combo therapy may include cholesterol drug for certain patients

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Robert Carlson, M.D

(RxWiki News) Gene mutations at the root of certain cancers can make treatment tricky. Drug combos are being developed for a two-pronged approach. Cholesterol drugs may help.

A recent study tested 40 drug combinations on three types of melanoma skin cancer cells. One type of melanoma cell did well a combination of one cancer drug with one cholesterol drug.

"Talk to your oncologist about treatment plans."

David F. Stern, PhD, professor in the Department of Pathology and Dermatology at Yale University School of Medicine in Connecticut, was the lead author of this study.

Dr. Stern said, “The identification of gene mutations that drive specific subsets of cancers has had a major beneficial impact on treatments for these patients. But such mutations can only be identified for some cancers.”

“Some patients who have a specific cancer-driving genetic mutation never respond to the matching drug, while nearly all those who initially respond eventually become resistant to the effects of the drug, and their cancers relapse.”

For the study, 40 drug combinations were tested on three different types of live melanoma cell types. Some cancer drugs were even combined with statins, which are drugs for high cholesterol.

These tests were not done in living human beings. Live melanoma cells were taken from humans and placed in a petri dish or test tube, where they were treated with the drug combinations.

Often, melanoma is the result of gene mutations. The three types of melanoma cells were: RAS gene mutation, BRAF gene mutation and melanoma cells without either RAS or BRAF gene mutations.

RAS gene mutation occurs in approximately 20 percent of melanomas. BRAF gene mutation occurs in approximately 40-50 percent of melanomas.

Test result showed the RAS gene mutation samples were more resistant to a combination of cholesterol drugs and a particular type of cancer drug—cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor.

Dr. Stern said, “Perhaps the most interesting observation was that several drug combinations that included a statin, a drug class used clinically to lower cholesterol, killed RAS-driven melanoma cell lines, given the lack of success in treating such cancers.”

“These agents may be extremely useful as partner agents in combination therapy. Since multiple cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitors (a type of cancer-fighting drugs) are already in human clinical trials, there may be a short path to testing the combination of a statin (cholesterol drug) plus a cyclin-dependent kinase inhibitor in patients with RAS-driven melanoma.”

Further studies will be necessary to prove the effectiveness of these drug combinations. This study was published in December in Cancer Discovery. No financial information was given. No conflicts of interest were found.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 16, 2012
Last Updated:
December 20, 2012