Statins may boost survival rate of breast cancer patients

TORONTO —  A drug that typically is used to treat high cholesterol may be quite useful in the fight against breast cancer. According to recent research, the cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins may boost the survival rates of breast cancer patients.

Breast cancer is diagnosed in over 330,000 women in the U.S. each year, and it claims 42,000 lives annually. Statins are antioxidants that help to lower inflammation, and have been used by women undergoing chemotherapy to cut the risk of heart failure in half.

“Two types of cancer medications, anthracyclines and trastuzumab, are effective treatments for many women with breast cancer. These medications are essential to kill breast cancer cells, however, the risk of heart muscle damage has limited their use, particularly in women who are at higher risk for heart problems because of their age or other medical issues,” says Professor Husam Abdel-Qadir, a cardiologist at the University of Toronto, in a statement.

According to a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, over 2,000 Canadians in their 60s and 70s were diagnosed in the early stages of the disease between 2007 and 2017. Each patient who was already taking statins was matched with a peer who was not, with a variety of medical and social background factors in common. Of these, 1,332 women were treated with anthracyclines, while 780 received trastuzumab.

Each group of patients was monitored for signs of heart failure, such as hospitalizations and/or emergency room visits for five years after chemotherapy began. None had previously been diagnosed with the condition. Results indicated that patients who were prescribed anthracyclines as well as statins were 55 percent less likely to develop heart failure. Patients who were prescribed trastuzumab as well as statins were 54 percent less likely to develop the condition.

“Our findings support the idea that statins may be a potential intervention for preventing heart failure in patients receiving chemotherapy with anthracyclines and potentially trastuzumab,” says Professor Husam Abdel-Qadir.

The results may not apply to younger women or to those with a low cardiovascular risk who do not meet current indications for a statin. The researchers cannot confirm taking statins prevents heart failure in breast cancer patients. However, previous smaller studies have suggested women taking statins may have less heart muscle damage from these types of chemotherapy.

“This study does not conclusively prove statins are protective, however, this study builds on the body of evidence suggesting they may have benefits. For women with breast cancer who meet established indications for taking a statin, they should ideally continue taking it throughout their chemotherapy treatment. Women who do not have an indication for a statin should ask their health care team if they can join a clinical trial studying the benefits of statins in protecting against heart muscle damage during chemotherapy. Otherwise, they should focus on measures to optimize their cardiovascular health before, during, and after chemotherapy,” says Professor Husam Abdel-Qadir.

SWNS reporter Mark Waghorn contributed to this report.