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Women who take statins could be less likely to develop ovarian cancer, study finds

Published on 19/02/20 at 09:43am

A study by Cancer Research UK has found that women who take statins, drugs that lower cholesterol, are less likely to develop ovarian cancer.

The research was published in JAMA and studied genes and the extent to which they inhibit the enzyme HMG-COA reductase, the enzyme statin targets to reduce cholesterol. The study suggests that statins could lower ovarian cancer risk but highlights that more research needs to be done specifically looking at their use and impact on women’s risk of developing the disease.

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. 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.”

The researchers who conducted the study were based at the University of Bristol. They looked at 63,347 women between the ages of 20 and 100, with 22,406 having ovarian cancer. They also looked at an additional 31,448 women who carried the BRCA 1/2 fault with 3,887 of this group having ovarian cancer.

The findings suggest that long-term statin used could be associated with an estimated 40% reduction in ovarian cancer risk in the general population. The ability to prevent cancer could come from two different effects of taking the drug. Statins have been shown to induce apoptosis, which is one of the body’s ways of getting rid of old or infected cells, which stop tumours from growing. Another effect is that they lower cholesterol which helps regulate cell growth.

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."

Conor Kavanagh


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