MONDAY, May 21, 2012 (HealthDay News) -- Statin drugs commonly used to lower cholesterol levels may also slow the unhealthy growth of the prostate in men with elevated blood levels of prostate-specific antigen, a new study finds.
Prostate-specific antigen, or PSA, levels are often elevated due to cancer or other conditions involving the prostate, explained researchers from Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C.
The study authors noted that their findings are significant because an enlarged prostate affects up to 90 percent of men older than 70 years and can lead to bladder or kidney damage. Many of these men may already be taking a statin, which include cholesterol-lowering drugs such as Crestor, Lipitor, Pravachol or Zocor.
"Given that prostate enlargement is an important health problem in the United States and elsewhere, and will be a larger problem as the population ages, it's important to understand and treat its causes," the study's lead author, Dr. Roberto Muller, a urology fellow at Duke, said in a medical center news release.
The study, which was funded by drug maker GlaxoSmithKline, is scheduled to be presented Monday at the annual meeting of the American Urological Association in Atlanta.
In the research, Muller and his team sifted through data on more than 6,000 men involved in an unrelated GlaxoSmithKline trial for a prostate cancer drug. The researchers identified over 1,000 men enrolled in the study who also took a statin.
Although the men who took these cholesterol drugs tended to be older and were expected to have enlarged prostates, the study revealed the prostates of these men were similar in size to those who did not take statins.
After two years, the researchers also found that the men who took statins had reduced prostate growth regardless of whether or not they had taken the prostate cancer drug as part of the larger study.
Specifically, prostate growth was an average 5 percent less in men who took both a statin and the prostate cancer drug, compared to the men who only took the cancer medication. For the men taking statins and an inactive placebo pill, prostate growth was about 4 percent less than the men taking only the dummy pill.
The researchers noted, however, the benefits of the drugs seemed to fade after two years.
"We don't yet understand the mechanisms that might be causing this," Muller said in the news release. "Some have suggested that statins may have anti-inflammatory properties, and inflammation has been linked to prostate growth, but this needs further study."
One expert said the findings were interesting, but it's too soon to advise a statin as a preventive measure against enlarged prostate.
"Studies such as these are intriguing because we do not yet know the reason prostates enlarge as men age," said Dr. Warren Bromberg, chief of the division of urology and director of the Prostate Cancer Program at Northern Westchester Hospital Center in Mount Kisco, N.Y. "There are likely multiple factors that may lead to prostate growth, including genetic, environmental, and as the article points out, dietary or behavioral."
The reduction in prostate growth linked to statin use was "small," Bromberg added, and it also seemed temporary.
"Because statins may be associated with significant side effects, I would advise caution in taking such medications strictly to prevent prostate growth," he said.
The study authors noted that men's lifestyles, including diet and exercise, affect their prostate health as well as cholesterol levels. The study was able to show an association between statin use and reduced prostate growth, but it could not prove cause-and-effect.
Still, the findings do shed light on prostate health generally, Muller said.
"Prostate enlargement was once considered an inexorable consequence of aging and genetics, but there is growing awareness that prostate growth can be influenced by modifiable risk factors," he explained. "In this context, the role of blood cholesterol levels and cholesterol-lowering drugs such as statins warrants further study."
Findings presented at medical meetings are typically considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.
The U.S. National Library of Medicine has more about enlarged prostate.