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Statins ‘could treat prostate cancer’: Drugs starve stubborn tumours, trial finds

Statins ‘could treat prostate cancer’: Cholesterol-busting drugs starve stubborn tumours, first of its kind trial finds

  • 11 out of 12 prostate cancer patients saw their tumour growth slow after statins
  • This indicated they were seeing ‘disease stabilisation’, the researchers say
  • Drugs could be offered to patients ‘very quickly’ if further studies show effect

Statins could help thousands of men battling stubborn prostate cancer, research suggested today.

The cholesterol-busting pills — taken by millions across the world — were shown to starve tumours in a ‘first of its kind’ trial. 

All but one of the 12 patients given the medication saw a clear benefit, the results revealed. 

Charities called the findings ‘encouraging’, given the drugs are cheap and proven to be safe.

Lead author Professor Hing Leung, from the Cancer Research UK Beatson Institute in Glasgow, said further trials were needed. 

But he added: ‘We could use these already-approved medicines very quickly to offer patients better options for treatment.’

Statins could help slow tumour growth in prostate cancer patients that have stopped responding to traditional treatment, a ‘first of its kind’ trial shows

The history of statins

1976

Japanese biochemist Akira Endo isolates mevastatin — the first statin drug — from a fungus.

Animal trials showed the drug lowered cholesterol in dogs, rabbits and monkeys.

However, the drug was never marketed after rat trials showed it could be toxic.

1978

Alfred Alberts discovered lovastatin while working at Merck Research Laboratories.

It was also discovered independently by Dr Endo for the Sankyo company within a year. 

Merck began clinical trials in 1980, but were paused after Sankyo tests of the chemically similar mevastatin found it was toxic in animals.

But trials on lovastatin found no similar issues and in 1983 clinical development was restarted by Merck. 

1987 

Lovastatin becomes the first statin to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

It reached sales of more than $1billion (£858million) in its first year.

1997 

Atorvastatin is approved. It is sold by Pfizer as Lipitor and is the most popular statin in use today.

It followed the approvals of pravastatin in 1991 and fluvastatin in 1994.

2012

FDA introduces safety warnings on statins stating a small increased risk of higher blood sugar levels and type 2 diabetes diagnosis. 

Around 52,000 men in the UK and 1650,000 in the US are diagnosed with prostate cancer every year. 

It is usually treated with a combination of radiotherapy and hormone therapy, where levels of testosterone are lowered in the body to slow the growth of the tumour.

Prostate cancer needs androgens, like testosterone, to grow. 

They are made from cholesterol in the blood stream and are produced by the testicles.

But the disease becomes resistant to hormone therapy in up to 20 per cent of cases. This is known as castration-resistant prostate cancer (CRPC).

Professor Leung claimed this type of prostate cancer was ‘currently very difficult to treat’. 

The study, published in BJU International, tracked prostate-specific antigen (PSA) levels in 12 patients with CRPC.

High PSA levels often indicate indicate having prostate cancer, although they can also become elevated in people with an inflamed or enlarged prostate.

The protein is produced by normal as well as cancerous cells in the prostate.

None of the participants were already on statins before the six-week trial began. 

Patients were given a 40mg atorvastatin pill every day for six weeks.

The drugs were dished out alongside traditional androgen deprivation therapy, which lowers androgen in the blood stream.

Results showed 11 of the 12 patients saw their PSA levels fall. One patient saw levels drop by 50 per cent. 

This indicated they were seeing ‘disease stabilisation’, the researchers said. 

Dr Hayley Luxton, senior research impact manager at Prostate Cancer UK, said: ‘We are pleased to have funded this study, which shows encouraging early signs that statins could help slow prostate cancer growth.

‘Further research is now needed to understand the best time to add statins to prostate cancer treatment, and to test this approach in a much larger group of men.’

Statins are a group of pills that stop the liver producing ‘bad’ cholesterol, known as low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol. 

Over time, its build-up can lead to hardened and narrowed arteries and heart disease — one of the world’s leading causes of death.

People are currently prescribed statins if they have been diagnosed with the disease, or have a family history of it.

Prostate cancer survivor, 64, hails research showing statins can help treatment 

The research has been welcomed by John Culling, 64

John Culling, 64, was serving in the army when he was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2019. 

His first indication was needing to use the toilet in the night on a skiing trip – something he’d never needed to do before. 

He put it down to age, but when it happened again on a trip as an army hill walking instructor, a medic with the group suggested he ask his GP to check his prostate.

He said: ‘I wasn’t overly concerned. I was only having to get up once in the night, but I had never had to before, so it was the change that prompted me to get it checked out.’

John was subsequently diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer. 

He said: ‘The diagnosis came a shock. I was 60 but I had been in the army all my life so was fit.’

John, who lives in Broughty Ferry near Dundee with his wife Margaret, underwent chemotherapy, radiotherapy and hormone treatment which was successful and is now being monitored.

The father of two said: ‘The aggressiveness of the prostate cancer I have, means there is a high chance it could come back so it’s a case of waiting and watching.’

John, originally from Jedburgh in the Scottish Borders, joined the army at 19 and served for 43 years until August last year, latterly as a captain and Quartermaster, in the King’s Own Scottish Borders then the Royal Regiment of Scotland.

He said: ‘The army were incredibly supportive when I was going through treatment.’

The grandfather to two boys, three-year-old Mack and two-week-old Blair, is hopeful that current research being funded by Cancer Research UK could help treat the disease even more effectively in future.

He said: ‘Knowing that scientists are working in labs and hospitals conducting research and clinical trials, especially with drugs that are already in use for other conditions, gives me hope both for myself and for future generations.

‘Hopefully, research like this means even better outcomes for anyone who might have to go through a diagnosis like mine.’



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