Statins could prevent the spread of breast cancer, a new study suggests.
Researchers say the drugs, which combat high cholesterol, do not prevent the cancer from occurring but stop it from spreading to other organs.
Experiments performed in human cells and laboratory mice found that the pills prevent tumors from migrating to the lungs and liver.
The team, from the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, says the findings could pave the way for statins to be used in combination with chemotherapy drugs as a more affordable and effective treatment for combating one the leading causes of death in women.
A new study has found that statins, which combat high cholesterol, do not prevent breast cancer from occurring but stop it from spreading to other organs (file image)
For the study, the team used mice that were genetically engineered to develop breast cancer.
Researchers used the commonly prescribed atorvastatin, often marketed under the brand name Lipitor.
Taking into account the size of the mice, scientists gave them between 2 mg and 10 mg per kg doses of atrovastatin, close to the equivalent of the 20 and 80 mg pills taken by humans.
Results showed that the statins, which were injected into the mice, had no effect on primary breast cancers, the location where tumors originate.
This was different in metastasis, the stage at which cancer spreads to a different part of the body from where it started.
The statins limited this life-threatening process, where tumors spread to the lungs and liver, so much it became clinically insignificant.
The same results were found when the researchers introduced a human breast cancer cell to a liver cell.
‘These effects are significant for several reasons,’ said Dr Alan Wells, a professor of pathology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.
‘First, the doses of atorvastatin used are similar to those used for moderate-intensity lipid lowering therapy in clinical patients.’
‘Second, we found a divergent effect of atorvastatin on breast cancer cells. While the primary tumor cells were unaffected by statin treatment, the metastatic cells were suppressed.’
Dr Wells said the findings, published in the British Journal of Cancer, suggest statins could be used in combination with chemotherapy drugs to cure the disease.
For American women, breast cancer death rates are higher than rates for all other cancers aside from lung cancer, according to Breastcancer.org
It is estimated that nearly 41,000 US women will die from breast cancer in 2018, although rates have been falling since 1989.
If detected in its early stages, the five-year relative survival rate of breast cancer is 99 percent. But if it has spread to a distant part in the body, the rate falls to just 27 percent.
This is because, when breast cancer reaches stage IV, it becomes aggressive and generally resistant to chemotherapy.
‘Thus, therapies to keep metastases in a dormant state and prevent their mortal emergence are desirable to prolong breast cancer survival,’ said Dr Wells.
While new cancer drugs are very costly and must past stringent testing by the US Food and Drug (FDA), statins are relatively inexpensive.
‘As such, repurposing already FDA-approved drugs with favorable safety profiles may allow for more rapid clinical implementation of effective therapies at low cost,’ said Dr Wells.