Can statins really increase cancer survival?

Can statins really increase cancer survival?

Research on statins fighting cancer produces very mixed results, with some studies suggesting they exert multiple anticancer benefits, including decreased tumour growth, angiogenesis, and metastasis, but others indicating they can make matters worse. One problem is that much of the research supporting statins with cancer relies on in vitro cell studies; much of the criticism comes from real life epidemiology studies. 

What is known for certain is that cancer may use glucose to grow but it uses fat to spread.  Research shows that cancer burns sugar in the primary tumour but switches to burning fatty acids once it arrives in the adjacent lymph nodes. Furthermore, other research shows cancer cells 'load up' with lipids to begin their travels around the body and a third study shows that people with the highest levels of blood fats (cholesterol and triglycerides) develop more metastases and survive least. A number of cancers are worsened by high blood fat levels; and there is research with a number of cancers (for example, breast and lung cancer) where a low fat diet increases survival.

Go to: Saturated fat and cancer

In a 2019 study from Queen's University Belfast, while statins had no effect on reducing prostate cancer risk, the researchers found that cholesterol lowering statins could reduce aggressive and fatal prostate cancer by 24%. The natural compound Lycopene from tomatoes is known to reduce prostate cancer risk, and aggressive and fatal prostate cancer too. This antioxidant also blocks glutamate use by cancer cells, and attacks cancer stem cells, and beats statins in research.

In a 2020 prostate cancer study, this time from Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center in Philadelphia, 13,000 'high risk' men who had a Gleason score of over 8, were followed and those who took a statin along with metformin, had a median survival of 3.9 years, statins alone was 3.6 years, and metformin alone was 3.1 years, no higher than taking neither at 3.1 years.

Statins reduce serum cholesterol and there are a good number of studies showing that people with higher blood fat levels, especially saturated fat and LDL levels, develop more metastases and survive cancer least. While there is no doubt it is a crucial anti-cancer strategy to lower blood saturated fat levels, there is surprisingly little clear research on statins in the fight against cancer:

  1. One study by Dr. Lauren Christine Harshman an assisitant professor at both Dana-Faber and Harvard Medical School suggests that taking statins can slow down the rate of progression in prostate cancer where men are also taking hormone therapy (ADT). As we said above, prostate cancer progression is known to be linked to blood fat levels.
  2. Cholesterol is a major part of cell membrane structure and mevalonate produced in membrane synthesis is a precursor of dolichol which stimulates DNA synthesis and several cancer proteins. Mevalonate is also a precursor to GPP and FPP which regulate the ras and rho genes, which can cause cells to grow wildly. Ras and rho are involved in many cancers and statins like lovastatin and cerivastatin have been shown to block these genes (1)
  3. Statins also seem to increase apoptosis (cancer cell death) in cell lines from brain tumours, mesothelioma and cervical cancer.
  4. There is mixed research on angiogenesis. Some studies suggest statins reduce this; others suggest promotion of blood supplies in a review of statins and cancer in the Oncologist (2).
  5. Indeed, there are strong arguments that statins can actually increase cancer risk due to modifying the immune response(3) and increasing the production of liver enzymes. And there is research showing an increased risk of cancer in the elderly when taking atorvastatin (4), and in people with a history of breast and prostate cancer(5).
  6. There is also mixed research on statins with breast cancer. One Swedish study sought to clear this up and found that both pre-diagnostic statin use and post-diagnostic statin use was linked to lower levels of breast cancer related death.
  7. There also seems to be some evidence for the simultaneous use of both metformin and a statin. One study showed that they synergistically inhibited endometrial cancer growth. Another showed that they reduced recurrence of prostate cancer in type-2 diabetes patients. The statin here was Simvastatin.
  8. Importantly, one of the causes of the conflicting research results may be that not all statins work the same way. It seems that fat soluble (Lipophyllic) statins may have more anti-cancer benefits that water soluble statins. Atorvastatin is a lipophyllic statin.
  9. Cancer patients reading this might prefer to look at the bioactive compound lycopene from tomatoes. There is research showing it can lower cholesterol as well as, or even better than statins, and research showing it reduces fat levels and risk of prostate cancer, aggressive prostate cancer and fatal prostate cancer, without side-effects.

Go to: Is Lycopene better than statins?

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  1. Soma MR, Corsini A, Paoletti R. Cholesterol and mevalonic acid modulation in cell metabolism and multiplication. Toxicol Lett 1992;64–65: Spec No1–15.
  4. Ann Intern Med. 2007 Jul 3;147(1):1-9.
  5. N Engl J Med. 2007 Oct 11;357(15):1477-86.
2019 Research
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