October 22, 2010
Dear Mayo Clinic:
Is it true that medications that are used to lower cholesterol can help lessen one's chance of getting prostate cancer?
A recently published research study did find that men who took statins mdash; drugs widely prescribed to lower cholesterol mdash; were less likely to be diagnosed with prostate cancer, compared to men who did not take statins. More investigation is needed before any recommendations can be made based on these findings, but it seems that what's good for your heart is good for your prostate.
In the study, published in The Journal of Urology (August 2010), Mayo Clinic researchers followed 2,447 men for more than 15 years. Of the statin users, 6 percent were diagnosed with prostate cancer. By comparison, non-statin users were three times more likely to develop prostate cancer, suggesting that statin use may prevent this type of cancer from developing.
Statin medications are currently used to lower cholesterol or to help prevent heart attack and stroke in high-risk patients. Exactly why statins are associated with a decreased risk of prostate cancer is unclear, but several factors may be at work. First, the male hormone testosterone is derived from cholesterol, and testosterone drives the growth of prostate cancer. When cholesterol is reduced using statins, testosterone may be reduced as well, decreasing the risk of prostate cancer. Second, in the laboratory setting, researchers have observed that statin medications can prevent cancer cellsfrom dividing and, in fact, may cause some cancer cells to die.
The results of this studyare preliminary, and more research is necessary to determine if statins can protect against prostate cancer. But, at this time, the research does appear to indicate there's some correlation between heart health and a lower risk of prostate cancer.
The findings are important because prostate cancer is the most common cancer among American men and kills about 30,000 to 40,000 men in this country every year. In addition, although about one in six men in the U.S. will develop prostate cancer, far more will develop heart disease. The leading cause of illness and death in U.S. men with prostate cancer is actually cardiovascular disease.
Even though it's hard to predict exactly how the correlation between statins and prostate cancer will play out, we know that the healthier a person's lifestyle in general, the less likely the chance of prostate cancer, other urologic diseases and additional health problems, including heart disease.
With these findings in mind, it's wise to engage in a heart-healthy lifestyle mdash; with or without statins. In general, that lifestyle consists of exercising for at least 150 minutes each week, quitting smoking, managing stress and eating a healthy diet. A diet that's good for your heart typically includes whole grains; lean meat, poultry and fish; and at least five servings of fruits and vegetables a day. Following these guidelines is not only important for prostate health, but for a person's health overall.
— R. Jeffrey Karnes, M.D., Urology, Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn.