They found no association between use of cholesterol-lowering drugs and whether or not men were diagnosed with early, curable forms of prostate cancer. But they did find that men who took cholesterol-lowering medications, as opposed to those not taking them, had half the risk of eventually developing advanced prostate cancers (283 men had cancer that invaded nearby tissue, had spread to other parts of the body, or was fatal) and one-third the risk of the most serious type of advanced prostate cancer - fatal and metastatic (206 of the 283 men).
"And the longer men used cholesterol-lowering drugs, the lower their risk," she added.
By the end of the study, more than 90 percent of men taking cholesterol-lowering drugs opted for statins, as opposed to other cholesterol-lowering drugs. "Since most of these study participants were taking statins during the time that we saw the highest levels of risk-reduction, we believe that statins more than any of the other cholesterol-lowering drug may have the biggest risk-reduction effects, but more studies are necessary to validate this," says Platz.
Statins lower cholesterol by blocking an enzyme that controls its assembly. There are clues to suggest key cellular pathways involved in cancer-risk reduction may include statins' effects on testosterone production, cell signaling, and inflammation. Or the drugs may play a role in changing prostate cancer cell membranes, which are rich in cholesterol.
Prostate cancer is the leading cancer in American men. It strikes more than 230,000 U.S. men annually and kills more than 30,000.
Additional research investigators include Michael F. Leitzmann, from the National Cancer Institute; Kala Visvanathan from Johns Hopkins; Meir J. Stampfer, Walter C. Willett, Eric B. Rimm, and Edward Giovannucci from Harvard University.