Statins could lower ovarian cancer risk, finds study

Statins may protect against the development of ovarian cancer as they’ve been shown to induce apoptosis.

Kizzy Bass
28 February 2020

Women who take statins have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer.

Cancer Research UK funded a recent genetic study that suggests women who take statins in the long term have a lower risk of developing ovarian cancer.

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This study also showed that in women who carry the BRAC 1/2, the results were the same. The women who have the BRAC1/2 fault are at a higher risk of developing ovarian cancer than the rest of the general population.

Published in JAMA, this research studied genes and how they inhibit the enzyme HMG-CoA reductase – which is responsible for regulating cholesterol in the body – and is the exact enzyme targeted by statin drugs to reduce cholesterol.

University of Bristol based researchers looked at 63,347 women between the ages of 20 and 100 years old, of whom 22,406 had ovarian cancer. An additional 31,448 women who carried the BRCA1/2 fault, of whom 3,887 had ovarian cancer were also studied. The study used an approach called Mendelian randomization, which involves analysing the genetic data from thousands of people.

Statins may protect against the development of ovarian cancer as they’ve been shown to induce apoptosis – one of the body’s ways of getting rid of old, faulty or infected cells – and to stop tumours from growing in laboratory studies. Statins also lower circulating cholesterol, which helps regulate cell growth, though this research suggests that lower circulating cholesterol was not the method by which statins may reduce ovarian cancer risk.

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A 40% reduction in ovarian cancer risk.

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.

“It’s a promising result and I hope it sparks more research and trials into statins to demonstrate conclusively whether or not there’s a benefit.”

Dr Rachel Orritt, Cancer Research UK’s health information manager, said: “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.

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“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.”

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