Study: Statins Appear to Improve Cancer Survival


Super-common cholesterol drugs like Lipitor decreased mortality for 13 types of cancer.

Dan Zen/Flickr

PROBLEM: Statins -- like the brand names Lipitor, Zocor, and Crestor -- are the most commonly prescribed medications for lowering cholesterol. Cholesterol is integral to cell growth. Researchers at the University of Copenhagen put these two ideas together and looked to see if the connection could be relevant to patients with cancer -- the disease chiefly characterized by unregulated cell growth.

METHODOLOGY: The study, which was published yesterday in the New England Journal of Medicine, was based on an analysis of almost 300,000 cancer patients from Danish national databases. Of the patients, 18,721 had regularly taken statins before they were ever diagnosed with cancer. 277,204 had never used them. 

RESULTS: The patients on a steady regime of statins pre-diagnosis were, on average, 15 percent less likely to die from cancer than their non-statin-taking peers. They were also 15 percent less likely to die from any other cause. These effects were observed for 13 types of cancer, from an 11 percent reduced risk among patients with pancreatic cancer to 36 percent improved odds for those with cervical cancer. 

For 14 other types of cancer, though, no clear associations were found. Increased dosage did not seem to be related to decreased mortality; in fact, mortality increased slightly among those taking higher doses of statins.

CONCLUSION: Statin use in some cancer patients is associated with decreased mortality. 

IMPLICATIONSThe authors are now calling for randomized trials to determine whether there might be a causal relationship. Previous studies have shown that statins can reduce the risk of developing cancer; this one indicates that they might actually be useful in treating cancer once it's developed. 

A representative from the American Cancer Society cautions that it's too soon to start recommending that cancer patients start taking these drugs as treatment. It's possible that effects of statins were conflated with those of aspirin, which was recently shown to improve cancer survival and is often taken along with cholesterol-lowering drugs. And randomized trials used to study statins' effects on heart disease don't seem to have ever yielded any results about cancer -- but that could just be because no one was looking.

The full study, "Statin Use and Reduced Cancer-Related Mortality" is published in the New England Journal of Medicine .

Jump to comments
Presented by

Lindsay Abrams is an assistant editor at Salon and a former writer and producer for The Atlantic's Health Channel.

Get Today's Top Stories in Your Inbox (preview)

Tracing Sriracha's Origin to a Seaside Town in Thailand

Ever wonder how the wildly popular hot sauce got its name? It all started in Si Racha.

Elsewhere on the web

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register. blog comments powered by Disqus


Where the Wild Things Go

A government facility outside of Denver houses more than a million products of the illegal wildlife trade, from tigers and bears to bald eagles.


Adults Need Playtime Too

When was the last time you played your favorite childhood game?


Is Wine Healthy?

James Hamblin prepares to impress his date with knowledge about the health benefits of wine.


The World's Largest Balloon Festival

Nine days, more than 700 balloons, and a whole lot of hot air



More in Health

Just In