Published Aug 4, 2021
Statin use improves breast cancer survival in some triple-negative breast cancer patients, according to new research published in Cancer this week by researchers at The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. This new study adds to the large pool of existing research around statin use and cancer.
The study, “Association of statin use with clinical outcomes in patients with triple-negative breast cancer,” was led by Dr. Kevin Nead, an assistant professor of Epidemiology. Thanks to Dr. Nead’s work, along with his team, the research around the link between statin use and triple-negative breast cancer has been significantly expanded.
The study’s research included data from 23,192 women over age 66 with stage one, two, and three breast cancer. 2,281 women began using statins within one year of being diagnosed with breast cancer.
The study’s analysis suggested a link for those 2,281 women who began statins between statin use and improved cancer outcomes. It also suggested that improved outcomes may be stronger in women with early-stage triple-negative breast cancer. The study does not, however, recommend starting to use statins if you don’t need them.
In another statin-related study conducted in 2020, researchers kept track of more than 38,000 women with newly diagnosed breast cancer, colorectal cancer, or melanoma, who had already been prescribed statins for pre-existing conditions, like high cholesterol. Researchers tracked the women for ten years and they found that the better they were at taking their statins, the better their cancer prognosis.
Statins are most commonly prescribed for people with high cholesterol or those who are at risk for developing cardiovascular disease. Statins are widely used in the U.S. They’re also low-cost, easy to use, and have few side effects.
While statins are cholesterol-lowering drugs, but they also lower levels of other fats that circulate in the bloodstream, including a certain type that might play a role in some cancers.
In a previous interview with SurvivorNet, Dr. Shelley Tworoger of Moffitt Cancer Center says of statin use and how they interact with the body’s immune system, “They can help the immune system and also suppress the immune system in different ways. We don’t know which ones might be important for cancer.”
The new statin study concluded: “Among women with I, II, and III TNBC, initiation of statin therapy in the 12 months after breast cancer diagnosis was associated with overall survival and breast cancer-specific survival benefit. Statins may have a role in select patients with breast cancer, and further investigation is warranted.”
Treating Triple-Negative Breast Cancer
Triple-negative breast cancer is an aggressive type of breast cancer, and it doesn’t have any of the receptors commonly found in breast cancer. This means there are fewer treatment options available. However, chemotherapy can be an effective treatment for this disease.
In an earlier interview, medical oncologist Dr. Elizabeth Comen says, “If you’ve been diagnosed with triple-negative metastatic breast cancer, that means that on the outside of your cancer cells, you don’t have the estrogen receptor, the progesterone receptor, or the HER2 receptor.”
“And so the most important way that we will treat this cancer, for many patients, is chemotherapy,” she explains. “And it’s really important that you talk to your doctor about what chemotherapy options are available because in some instances, it may depend on what chemotherapy you had – if you had early-stage breast cancer, or perhaps you’ve been diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer, having never had breast cancer before.”
She continues, “And your treatment options may differ depending on if you’ve been exposed to any chemotherapy at all.”