Common cholesterol lowering drugs reduce lung cancer risk
Commonly used cholesterol lowering drugs - called statins - may also protect
against lung cancer and complications of smoker's lung, according to a review
of over 90 scientific papers by researchers from The University of Auckland
and Auckland City Hospital.
The review showed that patients taking statins were 30-50% less likely to be
diagnosed with lung cancer, and up to 50% less likely to die of complications
of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, also known as smoker's lung
"Even though randomised controlled trials have yet to be done, these
studies provide compelling evidence that statins significantly reduce lung
cancer risk and improve survival in patients with COPD," says lead
researcher Associate Professor Robert Young. "Although quitting smoking
remains the single best way to protect the lungs against damage and cancer,
statins appear to be highly beneficial, and they are the first drug to show
"We know that statins not only lower cholesterol but also modify
inflammation in the lining of arteries, and that this may be even more important
than the effect of lowering cholesterol. What has only recently become clear
is that statins also reduce inflammation in the lungs of smokers and ex-smokers
who have developed COPD."
The review of results from international studies involving more than 750,000
people suggests that statins may do as much, if not more, for the lungs as they
do for the heart. The benefits include reduced rates of hospital admissions,
less progressive decline in lung function and lowered risk of lung cancer.
Dr Young says that patients with COPD are at increased risk of suffering a
heart attack and should be prescribed statins on that basis alone, but it's
all the other potential benefits identified by these studies that also provide
compelling reasons to consider adding statin therapy to smokers with damaged
On the basis of their findings the New Zealand researchers recommend that statins
should be considered in all patients who have smoked and have evidence of lung
Lung cancer and COPD are leading causes of death in New Zealand. Lung cancer
affects about 1 in 10 smokers in New Zealand and is the most common cause of
death from cancer. COPD affects about 1 in 5 smokers and is the fourth leading
cause of death overall. While many people with COPD may benefit from taking
statins, most remain undiagnosed.
"Given the strong relationship that exists between lung cancer and
COPD and the overlapping pathways that cause them, it is very exciting to
find a group of drugs that is already in widespread use with a proven safety
record that confers beneficial effects on both of these lung diseases that
affect many New Zealanders," says Dr Young.
This new clinical use for statins is one of the hot topics in the upcoming
American Thoracic Society Meeting in the United States later this month where
Dr Young is presenting some of his work.