Statins, which are hailed for their ability to lower cholesterol levels, have a dark side that most recently includes evidence that they may be associated with an increased risk of prostate cancer. Results of the study, published in the December 2011 issue of Prostate, fly in the face of previous research that has explored any association between statin use and prostate cancer risk, and so it raises questions men need to ask themselves and their healthcare providers.
The new study involved 388 men who had prostate cancer and 1,552 controls. An analysis of each case revealed that among men who had ever used statins, there was a significant increase in the risk of prostate cancer when compared with men who had never used the cholesterol-lowering drugs. As the cumulative dose of statins increased, so did the trend toward an increased risk of prostate cancer.
Previous studies have shown a different relationship between statin use and prostate cancer. In a recent study from Cleveland Clinic and published in the Journal of Urology, for example, a review of more than 4,200 men with prostate cancer looked at statin use and determined that “statin use was associated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer, less frequent high grade prostate cancer and lower volume prostate cancer, suggesting that statin use has a protective effect against prostate cancer.”
In a VA Boston Healthcare System study published in the Journal of the National Cancer Institute, a review of 55,875 men who either took a statin or high blood pressure medication were evaluated. Researchers found that statin users were 31% less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer than men who took high blood pressure medication, and 60% less likely to be diagnosed with high-grade prostate cancer.
In yet one more study run by the American Cancer Society, investigators examined the association between long-term use of cholesterol-lowering drugs (mostly statins) and the incidence of ten common types of cancer (including prostate cancer) among 133,255 men and women between 1997 and 2007. They found no increased incidence of any cancer associated with five or more years’ use of cholesterol-lowering drugs.
The new study showing an increased risk of prostate cancer associated with statin use may raise more questions than it answers. One thing it suggests is that the quest for whether statins are beneficial or hazardous to prostate health or have a role in prostate cancer is still uncertain.
Chang CC et al. Statins increase the risk of prostate cancer: a population-based case-control study. Prostate 2011 Dec; 71(16): 1818-24
Farwell WR et al. Statins and prostate cancer diagnosis and grade in a veterans population. J Natl Cancer Inst 2011 Jun 8; 103(11): 885-92
Jacobs EJ et al. Long-term use of cholesterol-lowering drugs and cancer incidence in a large United States cohort. Cancer Res 2011 Mar 1; 71(5): 1763-71
Tan N et al. Statin use and risk of prostate cancer in a population of men who underwent biopsy. J Urol 2011 Jul; 186(1): 86-90