- Taking statins could reduce the chance of developing ovarian cancer.
- The drug has been shown to help the body to get rid of old, faulty or infected cells.
- Scientists warn not to start taking statins until there is more evidence.
Women who take statins could be less likely to develop ovarian cancer, new research suggests.
Scientists studied genes and looked at the extent to which they inhibit an enzyme responsible for regulating cholesterol in the body. They found that taking the cholesterol-lowering drug long-term could be associated with an estimated 40 per cent reduction in ovarian cancer risk in the general population, the study funded by Cancer Research UK suggests.
However, the estimate comes from looking at gene variation rather than statins themselves, and the exact mechanism by which these genes are associated with lower ovarian cancer risk is unclear. The enzyme, HMG-CoA reductase, is the same one targeted by statin drugs to reduce cholesterol.
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The research, published in JAMA, found the same result in women who carry the BRCA1/2 gene fault that puts them at higher risk of the cancer than the general population.
However, the scientists say that while their study suggests statins could lower ovarian cancer risk, more research needs to be done specifically looking at their use and impact on women’s risk of developing the disease.
Professor Richard Martin, from the University of Bristol, said: “Our findings open up the possibility of repurposing a cheap drug to help prevent ovarian cancer, especially in women who are at a higher risk.
“It’s incredibly interesting that women whose bodies naturally inhibit the enzyme targeted by statins have a lower risk of ovarian cancer, but we don’t recommend anyone rushes to take statins specifically to reduce ovarian cancer risk because of this study. It’s a promising result and I hope it sparks more research and trials into statins to demonstrate conclusively whether or not there’s a benefit.”
While the study suggests the drugs could lower ovarian cancer risk, more research needs to be done specifically looking at their use and impact on women’s risk of developing the disease.
The researchers looked at 63,347 women between the ages of 20 and 100 years old, of whom 22,406 had ovarian cancer. They also looked at an additional 31,448 women who carried the BRCA1/2 fault, of whom 3,887 had ovarian cancer.
Statins may protect against the development of ovarian cancer because they have been shown to induce apoptosis – one of the body’s ways of getting rid of old, faulty or infected cells. They have also been found to stop tumours from growing in laboratory studies, scientists say.
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Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women in the UK, and here are around 7,400 cases each year.
Dr Rachel Orritt, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, said: “This study is a great first step to finding out if statins could play a role in lowering ovarian cancer risk, and justifies future research into this area.
“But there’s not yet enough evidence to know if statins themselves could reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer safely. And it’s important to remember that the risk of developing ovarian cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and environmental factors.”