Cholesterol-lowering drugs statins may reduce cancer risk

In a new study, researchers found that cholesterol-lowering drugs called statins may reduce cancer risk in humans through a pathway unrelated to cholesterol.

The research was conducted by a team at the University of Cambridge, UK.

Statins reduce levels of LDL-cholesterol, the so-called ‘bad’ cholesterol, by inhibiting an enzyme called HMG-CoA-reductase (HMGCR).

Clinical trials have previously demonstrated convincing evidence that statins reduce the risk of heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases.

But the evidence for the potential effect of statins to reduce the risk of cancer is less clear.

In the study, the team examined associations of lipid-related genetic variants with the risk of overall cancer and 22 cancer types for 367,703 individuals in the UK Biobank. In total, 75,037 of these individuals had a cancer event.

Their analysis showed that variants in the HMGCR gene region, which represent proxies for statin treatment, were associated with overall cancer risk, suggesting that statins could lower overall cancer risk.

Interestingly, variants in gene regions that represent other cholesterol-lowering treatments that work differently to statins were not linked to cancer risk and genetically predicted LDL-cholesterol was not linked to overall cancer risk.

Taken together, these results suggest that inhibiting HMGCR with statins may help reduce cancer risk through non-lipid lowering mechanisms and that this role may apply across cancer sites.

This effect may operate through other properties of statins, including dampening down inflammation or reducing other chemicals produced by the same cellular machinery which synthesizes cholesterol.

One author of the study is Paul Carter, Cardiology Academic Clinical Fellow at the Department of Health and Primary Care.

The study is published in eLife.

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