Anti-inflammatory, anticholesterol drugs vs. cancer

From Anaheim, Calif., at a meeting of the American Association for Cancer Research

Cholesterol-lowering drugs, especially when combined with anti-inflammatory medication, may inhibit some cancers, two studies suggest.

Tapping into a database that tracks the health of more than 51,000 middle-aged and elderly men, researchers identified 2,074 who developed prostate cancer between 1990 and 2000. In 283 of the men, the cancer was lethal or potentially so, having spread to lymph nodes or other organs.

When analyzing data provided by the participants, Elizabeth Platz of Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore and her colleagues at Harvard University found that men who had been taking cholesterol-lowering drugs were only half as likely to develop potentially lethal prostate cancer as were men not taking such medications. The researchers observed that there was no difference in use of cholesterol drugs between healthy men and those with cancer that was confined to the prostate. In roughly 90 percent of the men taking anticholesterol medicine, the prescriptions were for the statin class of these drugs.

The other study tested the effects in rats of a statin called atorvastatin (Lipitor) combined with an anti-inflammatory drug.

First, researchers injected the animals every day for 2 weeks with a chemical that induces colon cancer. After the last injection, the rats received atorvastatin, aspirin, the anti-inflammatory celecoxib (Celebrex), or a combination of these drugs in their food for 6 weeks. A control group of rats was given food without drugs.

Animals receiving one or more of the drugs developed only one-tenth to two-thirds as many tumors as the controls did. The combination of atorvastatin and celecoxib produced the best results, says Bandaru S. Reddy of the Rutgers University School of Pharmacy in Piscataway, N.J. The least effective drug regimen was atorvastatin alone, says Reddy. Either aspirin alone or celecoxib alone cut tumor occurrence to less than a quarter of what it was in the control group.

“These are extremely exciting observations because of the potential use of statins as anticancer agents,” says Andrew J. Dannenberg of New York Presbyterian Hospital and Weill Medical College of Cornell University, who isn’t affiliated with either research group.

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