WEDNESDAY, Oct. 31, 2007 (HealthDay News) -- Men who were taking statins to lower their cholesterol had a 10 percent greater chance of being cured of prostate cancer by radiation therapy 10 years after diagnosis, a new study finds.
It's an "intriguing and very interesting finding," but falls short of supporting statin use for all prostate cancer patients, said study author Dr. Michael J. Zelefsky, a professor of radiation oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He was to deliver the results Wednesday at the American Society for Therapeutic Radiology and Oncology annual meeting, in Los Angeles.
"But I would encourage men to see their internist and get on the medications if their blood cholesterol warranted it," he said.
Zelefsky reported on 871 men given radiation therapy for prostate cancer between 1995 and 2000. The five-year relapse-free survival rate for the 168 men taking statins was 91 percent while the 10-year survival rate was 76 percent. That compares to 81 percent and 66 percent, respectively, for those not taking the drugs.
"There have been some reports of a lower risk of developing prostate cancer for those men who have been on statins," Zelefsky said, but the possible mechanisms by which the drugs might help prevent the disease or cure it are unknown.
"There was a suggestion made of a possible added benefit by an interaction between the drug and radiation," he said. "Or does it have its own independent effect? That is possible as well."
Zelefsky added that this study, and others suggesting a beneficial effect of statins on prostate cancer, "give fuel to stimulate what is the only way to absolutely corroborate such an effect, in a randomized, controlled trial."
Dr. Eric Horwitz, clinical director of radiation oncology at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, said he agreed with Zelefsky's call for a tightly monitored clinical trial. "There has been great success in running these large tests, and I'm sure it can be done."
As it is, many men diagnosed with prostate cancer are already taking statins, and there is no reason for them to stop, Horwitz said. "This report is reassuring because of the overlap," he noted.
Two recent reports have linked statin use with a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. One study, from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, found a decline in prostate cancer death rates that was most notable among white men who used statins.
Another study, from Duke University Medical Center, found lower blood levels of prostate-specific antigen, a potential marker of the cancer, among men taking statins.
A study on statin use in prostate cancer prevention or treatment should center on men at higher risk, Zelefsky said -- "Older men with a family history."
There is "no significant downside" to statin use in such studies because the drugs have a low rate of adverse side effects, he said.
For more on prostate cancer, visit the U.S. National Cancer Institute.