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Statins ‘may treat prostate cancer’: Cholesterol-lowering drugs starve stubborn tumors, first of its kind trial finds
- 11 out of 12 prostate cancer patients saw their tumor growth slow on statins
- This indicated they were seeing ‘disease stabilization’, the researchers say
- Drugs could be offered to patients ‘very soon’ if further research shows effect
Statins could help thousands of men fight stubborn prostate cancer, research suggested today.
The cholesterol-busting pills — taken by millions of people around the world — were found to starve tumors in a “first of its kind” trial.
All but one of 12 patients who received the medication saw a clear benefit, the results showed.
Charities called the findings “encouraging” as the drugs are inexpensive and proven to be safe.
Lead author Professor Hing Leung, of the Beatson Institute in the UK for cancer research in Glasgow, said further trials were needed.
But he added, “We could very quickly use these already approved drugs to provide patients with better treatment options.”
Statins may help slow tumor growth in prostate cancer patients no longer responding to traditional treatment, a ‘first of its kind’ study shows
The history of statins
Japanese biochemist Akira Endo isolates mevastatin – the first statin drug – from a fungus.
Animal studies showed that the drug lowered cholesterol in dogs, rabbits and monkeys.
However, the drug was never marketed after tests on rats showed it could be toxic.
Alfred Alberts discovered lovastatin while working at Merck Research Laboratories.
It was also independently discovered within a year by Dr. Endo for the company Sankyo.
Merck began clinical trials in 1980 but was paused after Sankyo tests of the chemically similar mevastatin showed it to be toxic in animals.
But trials with lovastatin found no similar problems, and Merck restarted clinical development in 1983.
Lovastatin will be the first statin to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
It reached sales of over $1 billion (£858 million) in its first year.
Atorvastatin is approved. It is sold by Pfizer as Lipitor and is the most popular statin in use today.
It followed the approvals of pravastatin in 1991 and fluvastatin in 1994.
FDA introduces safety warnings on statins indicating a small increased risk of higher blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes diagnosis.
About 52,000 men in the UK and 1650,000 in the US are diagnosed with prostate cancer each year.
It is usually treated with a combination of radiotherapy and hormone therapy, which lowers testosterone levels in the body to slow the growth of the tumor.
Prostate cancer needs androgens, such as testosterone, to grow.
They are made of cholesterol in the bloodstream and are produced by the testicles.
But in 20 percent of cases, the disease becomes resistant to hormone therapy. This is known as castration resistant prostate cancer (CRPC).
Professor Leung claimed that this type of prostate cancer “is very difficult to treat at the moment.”
The study, published in BJU Internationalmonitored prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in 12 patients with CRPC.
High PSA levels often indicate prostate cancer, although they can also be elevated in people with an inflamed or enlarged prostate.
None of the participants were taking statins before the six-week trial began.
The patients were given a 40 mg pill of atorvastatin every day for six weeks.
The drugs were handed out alongside traditional androgen deprivation therapy, which lowers androgen in the bloodstream.
The results showed that 11 out of 12 patients saw their PSA levels drop. One patient saw levels drop by 50 percent.
This indicated that they were seeing “disease stabilization,” the researchers said.
dr. Hayley Luxton, senior research impact manager at Prostate Cancer UK, said: ‘We are delighted to have funded this study, which shows encouraging early signs that statins can slow the growth of prostate cancer.
“More research is now needed to understand the best time to add statins to prostate cancer treatment, and to test this approach in a much larger group of men.”
Statins are a group of pills that stop the liver from producing “bad” cholesterol, known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol.
Over time, its buildup can lead to hardened and narrowed arteries and heart disease – one of the world’s leading causes of death.
People are currently prescribed statins if they are diagnosed with the disease or have a family history of it.
Prostate cancer survivor, 64, welcomes study showing statins could aid treatment
The study was welcomed by John Culling, age 64
John Culling, 64, was serving in the military when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019.
His first indication was that he had to go to the bathroom at night during a ski trip – something he had never had to do before.
He attributed it to age, but when it happened again while traveling as a mountain hiking instructor in the military, a medic from the group suggested he ask his GP to check his prostate.
He said, ‘I wasn’t too concerned. I only had to get up once during the night, but I’d never had to do that before, so it was the change that prompted me to get it checked.”
John was subsequently diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
He said: ‘The diagnosis came as a shock. I was 60, but I had been in the army all my life, so I was fit.’
John, who lives in Broughty Ferry near Dundee with his wife Margaret, underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatments which were successful and are now being monitored.
The father of two said, “The aggressiveness of the prostate cancer I have means there’s a good chance it will come back, so it’s just a matter of waiting.”
Originally from Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders, John joined the Army at age 19 and served for 43 years until August last year, latterly as Captain and Quartermaster, in the King’s Own Scottish Borders and then the Royal Regiment of Scotland.
He said, “The military was incredibly helpful as I went through treatment.”
The grandfather of two boys, three-year-old Mack and two-week-old Blair, is hopeful that current research, funded by Cancer Research UK, could help treat the disease even more effectively in the future.
He said: ‘Knowing that scientists in labs and hospitals are working on research and clinical trials, especially with drugs already used for other conditions, gives me hope for myself and for generations to come.
“Hopefully research like this will mean even better results for anyone who has to undergo a diagnosis like mine.”