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Study: Cholesterol-Lowering Drugs May Help Prevent Breast Cancer (dateline July 7, 2005)

A class of drugs commonly used to lower cholesterol may also reduce the risk of breast cancer, according to research results presented at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology (ASCO) in May 2005. In the study of military veterans, women who were taking statins to lower their cholesterol were over 50% less likely to develop breast cancer than women who were not taking statins. Though the research is preliminary, the researchers say the results reveal a promising new lead in helping to prevent breast cancer.

"This is a significant study for patients with breast cancer and women at high risk for this disease," said Vikas Khurana, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine at Louisiana State University Health Science Center at Shreveporta and senior author of the study, in an ASCO news release. "The findings indicate that statins may have a role in breast cancer prevention."

To conduct the study, Dr. Khurana and his colleagues collected data between October 1998 and June 2004 from a database containing health information about U.S. military veteran. They studied the effect of statins on 556 women with a history of breast cancer. They compared these women to another group of 39,865 women with no history of the disease. The study was conducted at the Overton Brooks Veteran's Affairs Medical Center, Shreveport, Louisiana.

The results of the study showed that statins were associated with a 51% risk reduction of breast cancer after controlling for age, smoking, alcohol use and diabetes. Common statins include atorvastatin (brand name, Lipitor), lovastatin (Mevacor), pravastatin (Pravachol), simvastatin (Zocor).

Despite promising results, the researchers say that their study is preliminary and findings must be confirmed in larger clinical trials. "It would be premature to tell women to take statins to decrease their breast cancer risk," said Dr. Khurana. "But if our results are confirmed, I think statins will have a significant chemopreventive role in women at high risk for breast cancer."

Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in women today (after lung cancer) and is the most common cancer among women, excluding nonmelanoma skin cancers. The American Cancer Society estimates that in 2005, approximately 211,240 women in the United States will be diagnosed invasive breast cancer. The chance of developing invasive breast cancer during a woman's lifetime is approximately 1 in 7 (13.4%). Another 58,490 women will be diagnosed with in situ breast cancer, a very early form of the disease.

Risk factors for breast cancer include advancing age, personal or family history of the disease, early onset of menstruation or late menopause, and long-term use of hormone replacement therapy. Women have the highest chances of successful treatment and survival if breast cancer is detected early.

Additional Resources and References

  • The study, Statins Reduce Breast Cancer Risk: A Case Control Study in U.S. Female Veterans," by R. Kochhar, V. Khurana, R. Kochhar, H. Bejjanki, G. Caldito, and C. Fort was presented on May 14, 2005 at the annual meeting of the American Society of Clinical Oncology,
  • To learn more about breast cancer risk factors, please visit