Women's Health

Cholesterol Drugs Could Treat Ovarian Cancer, New Research Suggests

Cholesterol Drugs Could Treat Ovarian Cancer, New Research Suggests

What are statins?

Statins are medications that are commonly used to treat low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels in the blood. LDL cholesterol is commonly known as “bad cholesterol” and statins help to reduce its production inside the liver. More than 30% of Americans have high levels of LDL and almost 28% of Americans between the ages of 40 and 59 use cholesterol-lowering medications. What’s more, it has been found that a little over 23% of adults use statin medications alone.

The link between statins and ovarian cancer

According to recent studies, statins can now be used as an effective treatment option for ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer is the 10th most common cancer in women in the United States. It is a type of cancer that begins in the cells of the ovaries. The ovaries are made up of three main types of cell: germ, stromal, and epithelial cells. Any of these cells can trigger cancer in the ovaries, although the most common among them are the epithelial cells.

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Recent research in targeting ovarian cancer cells

Research is continuously conducted to look for better ways to treat ovarian cancer. Most recently, a study was conducted at Keele University by lead author, Dr. Alan Richardson, and co-researchers. The team found that pitavastatin is the most effective statin in targeting ovarian cancer cells. They tested the effects of the statin on mouse models in the laboratory and found that the tumors shrank when treated with pitavastatin as well as a diet without geranylgeraniol. Geranylgeraniol is a substance that is found in certain foods such as sunflower oil and some rice. Dr. Richardson explains how eliminating such foods from one’s diet could prove helpful in fighting off cancerous tumors. Furthermore, by undergoing a controlled diet, sources of geranylgeraniol can be reduced and the statins’ effect on cancer cells can have a drastic impact.

While pitavastatin has not been tested for its effects on ovarian cancer just yet, it is believed that it could have a positive effect against a substance that cancer cells make in order to thrive. The next stage in the research would be to conduct clinical trials on human beings. Dr. Richardson explains how in order for statins to be effective as treatment for cancer, the right statin needs to be used and delivered at the right dose and the right time.

Recent research in ovarian cancer survival

Another study has found that statin use is associated with improved epithelial ovarian cancer survival. The study was conducted among 126 patients with advanced epithelial ovarian cancer undergoing primary cytoreductive surgery. Researchers found that survival rates of women who used statin were higher than in those who didn’t use statins. The outcome showed an overall survival rate of 62 months for statin users versus 46 months for non-users. Moreover, another study was conducted among 442 patients with stage I to IV ovarian cancer. The subjects were divided into three groups: 63 patients with high cholesterol who used statins, 28 patients with high cholesterol who did not use statins, and 346 patients without high cholesterol. The study was examined from the years 1992 to 2013 and found that statin use showed greater improvement in both PFS and DSS among patients with non-serous papillary ovarian cancer, but not among those with papillary serous histologic subtypes.

Can statins prevent ovarian cancer?

There are several different types of statins. The most common are simvastatin, atorvastatin, pravastatin, pitavastatin, fluvastatin, rosavastatin, and lovastatin. Statins work bystopping the body’s production of an enzyme known as HMG-CoA reductase. This enzyme is needed in order for the liver to form cholesterol. By blocking its activity, the liver produces less cholesterol, thus lowering the total amount of cholesterol levels in the body. What’s more, statins work by making it easier on the body to reabsorb LDL cholesterol that has built up in the arteries.

While statin use has been linked to managing and treating ovarian cancer, it has also been suggested that its use can help prevent the development of ovarian cancer in the first place. Recent findings suggest that lower cholesterol levels may limit the production of cancer cells, thus preventing the growth and spread of cancer. Evidence pertaining to statin use suggests:

  • Patients who use statin could have a reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer;
  • Patients with ovarian cancer who use statin and undergo treatment for their cancer, could have improved cancer survival likelihood

The use of statins for lowering cholesterol and preventing cardiovascular disease has been determined; however, further research needs to be performed in order to present well-rounded evidence in their role to prevent cancer. Still, the benefits of statins cannot be ignored. While they are most beneficial in patients with high cholesterol, heart disease, and diabetes, they have also proven to reduce stroke by 17%, cardiac events by 23%, all-cause mortality by 20%, and mortality by 10%. However, like any type of medication, statins are not without possible side effects. Some patients may experience nausea, muscle pain, constipation, and in some instances, confusion or memory loss. Studies show that side effects are generally seen in women who are older than 65 years old and who are taking higher doses of the medication.

The American Heart Association recommends statins only for certain individuals who:

  • Are between the ages of 40 and 75 and have an increased risk of cardiovascular disease within the next 10 years;
  • Are between the ages of 40 and 75 and have diabetes
  • Already have cardiovascular disease
  • Have an LDL cholesterol level of 190mg/dL or higher

If you are considering their use, it is important to consult with your doctor first. He or she will choose an appropriate statin for you based on factors such as:

  • Your age
  • Your medical condition
  • Your personal and family history
  • Your toleration of statin
  • Other medications you may be taking
  • How much cholesterol-lowering effect you may need

Certain findings suggest that statin pills can help manage medical conditions such as dementia, MS, and several forms of cancer. However, not all statins have the same effects. While there is ample evidence to suggest that statins may help prevent the occurrence of cancer, further research needs to be conducted to better understand their mechanisms and determine the optimal dosage, interval, and duration of the treatment. Perhaps the most anticipated aspect of the research on statin is how relatively inexpensive the medication would be for cancer patients. This, in turn, would greatly reduce the weight of hospital and medical bills for patients undergoing expensive cancer-specific treatments.

The bottom line

Overall, the connection between statins and cancers such as ovarian cancer appear to be strong. If you have ovarian cancer or you are at risk for ovarian cancer due to a family history of the disease, you may want to consider statin therapy. Still, it can be confusing when studies present different findings and for this reason, it is important to speak with your doctor. Together, you can determine if the benefits outweigh the possible risks of your individual situation. As far as a natural treatment plan goes, getting regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and maintaining a low cholesterol diet can help reduce LDL levels. Such lifestyle choices can, in turn, prove as a promising and effective alternative to statins until the medications are investigated and better understood in their association to cancers such as ovarian cancer.