MONDAY, April 18, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- The statins that many take to lower their cholesterol may be giving men an edge in the fight against prostate cancer, a new study suggests.
Men who used the drugs had about half the risk of advanced prostate cancer and a third of the risk of metastatic or fatal forms of the disease when compared to men who did not use those drugs, the study found.
While these findings are promising, the researchers stressed that more studies are needed to confirm the link and to determine exactly how statins might protect against prostate cancer progression. They presented the results Monday at the American Association for Cancer Research annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.
Prominent urologists said they are intrigued by the possibilities.
"I think this makes perfect sense," said Dr. Peter T. Scardino, chairman of the Department of Urology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City and head of the medical center's prostate cancer program.
Around the world, he said, the percent of men at autopsy with cancer cells in the prostate is more or less comparable. "But the risk of dying from prostate cancer differs dramatically: tenfold from country to country," according to the renowned prostate cancer surgeon, who pieces together this evidence in his new book, Dr. Peter Scardino's Prostate Book: The Complete Guide To Overcoming Prostate Cancer, Prostatisis And BPH.
The greatest risk, he said, is in the United States and European countries; less developed counties and Asia have a lower risk. And, he noted, when Asian men migrate to the West, their risk increases.
Dietary fat is believed to be the culprit.
"Cholesterol is the building block of the male hormone testosterone," said Dr. William J. Catalona, director of the Clinical Prostate Cancer Program of Northwestern University's Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center.
Since statins lower blood levels of this fatty substance, there may be less of it available to synthesize testosterone and dihydrotestostrone, he explained. And that may reduce male hormones that stimulate prostate cancer.
The findings deserve further investigation, said Catalona, who pioneered use of the PSA -- prostate-specific antigen -- test to screen for the disease.
This study isn't the first to show the potential cancer-fighting properties of statins. Prior population-based studies suggest those who take statin drugs are at a lower risk of breast, colon and prostate cancers.
In addition, laboratory research suggests statins induce cancer cell death, inhibit the spread of cancer throughout the body and suppress inflammation within cells.
Based on this evidence, lead investigator Elizabeth Platz, an assistant professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and her colleagues at the National Cancer Institute and Harvard University, followed 34,428 men U.S. men for more than a decade.
The men, who were cancer-free in 1990, were asked to report on their use of cholesterol-lowering drugs every two years. By January 2000, 2,074 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer. Of these, 283 were advanced cases, including 206 metastatic or fatal cancers.
Men taking statins had a 54 percent lower risk of advanced prostate cancer than men who were not using those drugs, the researchers found. Statin users' risk of metastatic or fatal cancer was 34 percent lower than those not on the drugs.
However, statin use was not related to prostate cancer overall or to prostate cancer that was still contained within the prostate, Platz noted.
"Taking the findings together by stage of prostate cancer, we hypothesize that statins do not influence the development of prostate cancer, but that they may influence whether the cancer has the ability to invade and metastasize," she said.
Platz said it would be premature for doctors to prescribe statins to help their male patients avoid advanced prostate cancer, and urologists agree.
"Would I put a patient on statin drug just to reduce his risk of prostate cancer? No," Scardino said.
"I don't think there's enough evidence to recommend statins to prevent death from prostate cancer," added Catalona.
So what can men can do to protect themselves? Reduce fat intake, eat more fruits and vegetables and exercise regularly, doctors say.
"The best way we know is to live a heart-healthy lifestyle," Scardino said.
The Prostate Cancer Foundation has more on prostate cancer symptoms and treatments.