Doctors have been fighting high cholesterol for years using a class of drugs known as statins. They work by blocking, or inhibiting, an enzyme that plays a key role in making cholesterol in the liver, the body's primary cholesterol producer. Similarly, doctors have been managing type 2 diabetes with the drug metformin at least since the early 90's. The drug works by suppressing glucose production in the liver, thereby controlling blood sugar levels. Both these drugs have helped an immeasurable amount of people, but what if they could also help fight cancer?
According to one study, the drugs might do just that. Using a combination of both drugs, statin and metformin, researchers were able to cut the risk of dying from prostate cancer by almost half. The study, presented at the American Society of Clinical Oncology annual meeting in Chicago, showed that in high risk prostate cancer patients, this drug combo was linked to a 43% reduction in risk of death by prostate cancer compared to those men who didn't use the meds.
Interestingly, the benefit was seen in men who took only statins, as well as those who were taking a combination of metformin with the statin. It seems that the drug combo worked better, but it still provides hope to those who are diagnosed with prostate cancer and take medication for high cholesterol as well. The study itself analyzed over 22,000 men who were diagnosed with high risk prostate cancer. High risk patients were defined as those men with stage T3/T4 tumors, a Gleason 8 or above, or a PSA level above 20. In other words, these were very serious cases of prostate cancer.
The study conducted by the Rutgers Cancer Institute of New Jersey in New Brunswick, found their cohort of high risk patients using Surveillance, Epidemiology, and End Results (SEER)-Medicare linked data. Using Medicare part D Event files, they could also find those men within their cohort who were using metformin or statins.
Beyond the overall reduction in prostate cancer specific mortality (death from prostate cancer) researchers found in men taking the meds, those men who were obese or had metabolic syndrome benefited the most. Those using only statins reduced their risk by 40%, and those men on the metformin statin combo saw a 43% reduction. This was the result for the average high risk prostate cancer patient. For those patients who were obese or had metabolic syndrome, just being on a statin treatment decreased their risk by 91%! For those obese or metabolic syndrome men who were taking the statin/metformin combo treatment, they saw a 70% decreased risk. For those men facing neither obesity nor metabolic syndrome, both the treatments had about a 40% decreased risk of prostate cancer death. Finding new uses for the drugs already on the market could be the key to fighting this silent killer.