Study finds evidence to suggest statins could lower risk of ovarian cancer.
Charity-funded research might have unlocked a new weapon in the fight against ovarian cancer.
A new study has found evidence to suggest that women who take statins on a long-term basis could be significantly less likely to develop the disease.
The researchers, from the University of Bristol, analysed data from 63,347 women between the ages of 20 and 100 for the study, which was funded by Cancer Research UK. Around a third of the women (22,406) had ovarian cancer when the research was carried out.
The study suggests that statins could lower ovarian cancer risk, although scientists stress more research is needed to fully understand the impact of the drug on women’s risk of developing the disease.
Ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women in the UK, with around 7,400 cases diagnosed each year. Around 4,100 women die from the disease every year in the UK. As there is no test that reliably picks up ovarian cancer at an early stage, chemoprevention could be an important approach to saving lives.
Statins may protect against the development of ovarian cancer because they induce apoptosis – one of the body's ways of getting rid of old, faulty or infected cells – and have been shown to stop tumours from growing in laboratory studies.
The findings suggest that long-term statin use could be associated with an estimated 40% reduction in ovarian cancer risk in the general population, although the estimate comes from looking at gene variation rather than statins themselves, and the exact mechanism by which these genes are associated with lower ovarian cancer risk is unclear.
Professor Richard Martin, from the University of Bristol, said: “Our findings open up the possibility of repurposing a cheap drug to help prevent ovarian cancer – especially in women who are at a higher risk.
“It’s incredibly interesting that women whose bodies naturally inhibit the enzyme targeted by statins have a lower risk of ovarian cancer, but we don’t recommend anyone rushes to take statins specifically to reduce ovarian cancer risk because of this study.”
Dr Rachel Orritt, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, added: “This study is a great first step to finding out if statins could play a role in lowering ovarian cancer risk, and justifies future research into this area.
“But there’s not yet enough evidence to know if statins themselves could reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer safely. And it’s important to remember that the risk of developing ovarian cancer depends on many things including age, genetics and environmental factors. Speak to your doctor first if you have any concerns about your risk.”