SAN FRANCISCO -- Women 69 and older who take statin drugs to lower cholesterol may gain the added benefit of reducing their risk of breast cancer, according to an unusual body of research reported here this week at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology.
For reasons that scientists at the University of Pittsburgh and the University of California, San Francisco, have not been able to explain, statin drugs, widely used to control elevated cholesterol, seem to possess the added ability to help keep breast cancer at bay.
Though other analyses have also shown statins to be capable of preventing the growth of other types of cancer, doctors are not poised to recommend statin drugs as a cancer preventive any time soon.
"Should statin drugs be used to prevent breast cancer? No. But this should be addressed in a phase 2 trial," said Dr. Daniel F. Hayes, a professor of medicine at Georgetown University.
Dr. Jane Cauley, a lead investigator of the statin research, said the drug taken by most participants in the study of 7,791 women was lovastatin, but other statin drugs proved to have the same cancer-preventing effects, she said. Other lipid-lowering drugs, the study found, did not have cancer-preventing capabilities, which implies that something about the chemistry of statins causes them to inhibit the development of cancerous cells.
Cauley acknowledges several drawbacks in her study. The analysis centered only on white women and researchers did not gather information on the length of time each statin user was on the drug.
The search for compounds to prevent breast cancer has been long and arduous, leading researchers down countless blind alleys.
Scientists, nevertheless, have been more fruitful in gathering leads on preventives for other types of tumors.
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