"Because statins are cheap, readily available, and have few side effects, our findings could have important implications for treatment outcomes in this acute disease," we read in Cancer (DOI: 10.1002/cncr.33797), where the authors of the discovery published their work.

 

The study was conducted by researchers from the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, in collaboration with Baylor College of Medicine (also in Houston), where Małgorzata Nowakowska works every day. This is the first large-scale experiment to analyze the association between this group of drugs and aggressive subtypes of breast cancer.

 

Triple-negative breast cancer (TNBC) is a type of breast cancer characterized by the absence of three receptors: estrogen, progesterone and epithelial growth factor (HER2). This lack means that targeted anti-cancer therapies developed for other types of breast cancer are completely ineffective for TNBC. In their place, very aggressive treatments based on chemotherapy, mastectomy, radiation and prophylactic oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) are used.

 

TNBC affects approximately 10-20 per cent of all breast cancers diagnosed and is considered the most aggressive subtype of this disease. The five-year survival rate for it is 77 per cent, while if it resulted in metastasis to other organs, it is 11 per cent.

 

The study proves that the use of statins resulted in a 58 per cent relative improvement in breast cancer-specific survival and a 30 per cent relative improvement in overall survival for patients.

 

"There has already been a lot of literature on statins and breast cancer, but the results are inconsistent," says study leader Dr Kavin Nead.  

 

“Previous studies have treated breast cancer as just one disease, yet we know there are many subtypes. That's why we chose to focus on this extremely aggressive form, which has limited treatment options," Nead says.

 

A total of 23,192 women over the age of 66 with stage I-III breast cancer were included in the observations, which lasted 3-4 years. 2281 of them were taking statins (started taking them within a year of diagnosis).

 

The analysis showed that the most effective influence of statins (greatest improvement in outcomes) occurred in ladies with early-stage TNBC. And when the intensity of therapy was tested, it turned out that statins given in high doses had the greatest effect on improving the overall survival of the participants. The researchers also found a statistically significant association between lipophilic statins (simvastatin, atorvastatin, lovastatin, fluvastatin, pitavastatin) and improved overall survival.

 

"We know that statins inhibit breast cancer cell division and induce processes that lead to cell death. Our study clearly shows that there is a strong correlation between statins and a better prognosis of TNBC patients.  It is now time to develop this finding in a prospective study," explains Dr Nead.