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Could Statins One Day Help Treat Breast Cancer?

Could Statins Help Prevent Breast Cancer’s Return?

Peter Russell
WebMD Health News

Reviewed by
Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH

June 1, 2016 — Some women who have survived breast cancer could one day be prescribed statins along with other treatments to keep the cancer from coming back. Scientists have found that the cholesterol-lowering meds may stop cancer cells from growing by up to 50%.

One leading breast cancer charity described the findings as a “crucial” discovery, although the research so far has been limited to laboratory work.

The hormone estrogen can aid the spread of breast cancer in women with the most common form of it, called “estrogen-receptor-positive.”

Anti-hormone medications have improved survival rates in recent years, but some people with ER-positive breast cancer have a relapse either during or after the treatment.

A new study published in the journal Breast Cancer Research shows how this type of cancer could be using a molecule made from cholesterol, called 25-hydroxycholesterol (25-HC), that can mimic estrogen and encourage cancer cells to keep growing.

Over time, ER-positive breast cancers can stop responding to the standard treatment that blocks estrogen, and the cancer can fully return, says Lesley-Ann Martin, a senior researcher at The Institute of Cancer Research in London, who is part of the investigative team. This research shows that certain cancer cells use a cholesterol molecule to copy estrogen so it can grow without it, she says.

“This is hugely significant. Testing the patient’s tumor for 25-HC or the enzymes that make it may allow us to predict which patients are likely to develop resistance to hormone therapy, and tailor their treatment accordingly,” she says.

“Our study also demonstrates that statins could be a valuable addition to breast cancer treatment, and that this warrants investigation in clinical trials.”


Statins are commonly given to people to lower the level of LDL cholesterol — the so-called “bad” cholesterol — in their blood.

In lab experiments, the researchers grew ER-positive cells without estrogen. They realized that the cancer cells were able to make their own fuel by producing the 25-HC molecule, allowing them to continue growing despite a lack of estrogen.

They found that when they blocked that from happening, the spread of cancer cells was reduced by between 30% and 50%.

Could Statins Help Prevent Breast Cancer’s Return?

Statins continued…

The researchers say their findings strengthen the argument for a clinical trial to test whether stains could improve how well anti-hormone treatments work for people with ER-positive breast cancer.

The study was mainly funded by the U.K. charity Breast Cancer Now as well as the NIHR Biomedical Research Centre at The Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust and The Institute of Cancer Research.

“This is a really crucial discovery,” says the Breast Cancer Now’s chief executive, Baroness Delyth Morgan. “Far too many women have to deal with the potentially devastating consequences of their breast cancer coming back, and this research presents an important opportunity to improve the effectiveness of today’s most commonly used treatments.

“This study breaks new ground in uncovering how some breast cancers continue to survive without estrogen and suggests that women could benefit from adding statins to standard anti-hormone treatments.

“But this is early research and greater clinical evidence is now needed to understand the potential risks and benefits of this approach.”

Discovery Shows Promise

“This early study raises an interesting question of whether cholesterol-reducing treatment, such as statins, could help lower the chances of breast cancer returning for some women who have developed a resistance to hormone therapy,” says Jane Murphy, clinical nurse specialist at Breast Cancer Care.

“We know that many women can be consumed with fear of their breast cancer coming back, which can have a huge impact on their ability to move forward after treatment. This discovery may, in future, help reduce these concerns for some patients, by allowing doctors to test if their cancer is likely to return, and tailor treatment accordingly.

“However, this research is only in its initial stages. We look forward to seeing further trials to determine whether this approach could work in practice.”

View Article Sources Sources


Martin, L. Breast Cancer Research, 2016.

Press release, Breast Cancer Now.

Breast Cancer Care.

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Posted by: Dr.Health

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