Health Team

Cholesterol drugs might reduce risk of prostate cancer

Posted November 3, 2008 4:42 p.m. EST
Updated November 3, 2008 6:47 p.m. EST

— Certain medicines used to lower cholesterol may also lower levels of a blood antigen that indicates a higher risk of prostate cancer.

However, researchers at Duke University Medical Center aren't ready to say that taking the drugs would lower a man's chance of getting prostate cancer.

A few years ago, Joe Vietri's doctor told him he had high cholesterol. "He wanted me to take certain medications and prescribed Lipitor to me to lower cholesterol," Vietri said.

Vietri also learned that he had a high PSA – or prostate-specific antigen in the blood – which indicates a higher risk of prostate cancer. The drug his doctor prescribed for him, Lipitor, is part of a group of medications called statins that appear to also lower PSA levels.

Dr. Stephen Freedland, a urological surgeon at Duke, led a study that reviewed the medical records of 1,200 men who went to the Durham Veteran Affairs' Medical Center for 16 years. The men, like Vietri, were on statin medications.

Several previous studies showed that statins might reduce the risk of advanced prostate cancer, but the reason why was unclear. The Duke study was the first to look specifically at PSA levels to see how statins affected the prostate in a large group of men.

"Their PSAs went down by about 4 percent, which is on the modest side, but as men age, we expected their PSAs to go up, not down," Freedland said.

Also, the more cholesterol went down, the more PSA went down, the study found.

"I think it's exciting to think there may be this link between cholesterol and prostate health," Freedland said.

Most of the men in the study took simvastatin, known by the brand name Zocor, but Freeland said that any statin medication would have the same affect on PSA levels.

However, the surgeon cautioned that more research is needed before he can definitively say that statins cut the risk of cancer. To achieve that, people should use diet and regular exercise to get to and keep a healthy weight, he said.

Vietri agreed, saying he has been doing that, along with taking a statin.

"I watched my diet pretty closely, avoided fatty foods," he said.

Vietri has also gotten regular screenings, so that if he does get prostate cancer, he will catch it early, when the disease is the most treatable.