Does statin use improve breast cancer outcomes?

BREAST-PREDICT PhD student, Amelia Smith recently published a new research paper examining the use of statins on breast cancer outcome. Amelia has written a blog for our BREAST-PREDICT website explaining the research study and the significance of the results for breast cancer patients.

Does statin use improve breast cancer outcomes?

Statin drugs are widely used for the reduction of cholesterol levels and prevention of cardiovascular disease. Significantly, recent studies have also found that taking statins can reduce cancer-related deaths. Our research group set out to examine the potential role of statins on breast cancer outcome. Specifically, as breast cancer can be more difficult to treat once it has spread to the lymph nodes, we investigated whether statin use can affect lymph node status of women with breast cancer, as well as the effects on breast cancer survival.

To try and answer this question, our research group pulled together information from over 6000 women diagnosed with breast cancer and the medications they receive. We analysed this information to determine whether women who used statins before a breast cancer diagnosis were more or less likely to;
i) Have breast cancer that has not spread to the lymph nodes i.e. be lymph node negative,
ii) Survive their breast cancer

We found that lymph node status did not differ between women who used statins and those who did not. However, women who took statins prior to diagnosis (most of these women continued to use statins post-diagnosis, also) were 19% more likely to survive their breast cancer. Women who took statins prior to diagnosis and who also tested positive for the estrogen receptor were even more likely to survive.

While these results are very exciting, this type of study is called an observational study, and therefore the results should be taken with some caution. Though increased survival in women who took statins was observed, it is possible that as these women are adhering to their medications, they were also more likely to stick to other healthy lifestyle behaviours – exercise, healthy diet, etc. which will also have an effect on breast cancer survival. Further research will thus be required to determine the exact role statins play on breast cancer survival.

This research study entitled “Pre-diagnostic statin use, lymph node status and mortality in women with stages I-III breast cancer” can be found here

Study Authors: Amelia Smith, Laura Murphy, Linda Sharp, Lina Zgaga, Thomas I Barron, and Kathleen Bennett

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