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Heart Care

Heart Care

Statins May Lower Cancer Risk, Too

If you have high cholesterol, chances are your doctor has prescribed you a type of medication called a statin. By lowering cholesterol, these pills help prevent heart disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. Some research suggests statins may also play a surprising role in preventing another major health condition. They may lower your risk for cancer.

Photo of doctor talking with woman

Statins and your body

Cholesterol is an important substance that helps the body function. Your liver makes cholesterol - enough for your body's needs. But the foods you eat also add to the amount of cholesterol in your blood. When your body has too much of the wrong type of cholesterol, it can form plaque along the artery walls. Plaque clogs your arteries and may eventually lead to heart disease, as well as disease in other parts of the body.

Enter statins. They work by limiting the amount of cholesterol that your liver naturally makes. Your doctor may prescribe a statin if healthy lifestyle changes, such as eating better and exercising more, aren't enough to control your cholesterol levels.

The cancer connection

Scientists have known for quite awhile about the ability of statins to reduce cholesterol. But their potential to lower the risk for cancer is a newer notion. Several studies have suggested that people who take statins may be less likely to develop prostate cancer, breast cancer, and colorectal cancer. A recent study even found a link between statin use and lower rates of stomach cancer in people with diabetes.

Statins may also help reduce the risk for death in people who already have cancer. Researchers from Denmark recently conducted a nationwide study on statins and cancer. They found that people diagnosed with cancer were less likely to die from it if they were taking statins. This link may be related to how statins work in the body. As they lower cholesterol, they may affect how cancer cells function, limiting their growth.

Despite these encouraging results, health experts, including the National Cancer Institute, don't yet recommend taking statins to prevent or treat cancer. Although some studies point to a positive connection, others do not. Ongoing clinical trials may eventually give a firm answer on the value of statins in cancer care. For now, the use of statins is limited to their proven power to lower cholesterol.

How much do you know about cholesterol? Take this quiz to learn more about it. 

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality - Treating High Cholesterol: A Guide for Adults

American Heart Association - About Cholesterol

National Cancer Institute - Statins and Cancer Prevention: Fact Sheet

February 2013

3 Ways to Lower Your Cholesterol - and Your Risk for Cancer

Science still needs to sort out whether statins can be a possible tool against cancer. Meanwhile, you can do a lot on a daily basis to lower your risk for both cancer and high cholesterol:

  • A healthy diet. Limiting foods that contain saturated fat and trans fats can keep cholesterol in check. Loading up on fruits and veggies may help you thwart cancers of the stomach and lung.

  • Regular exercise. Being physically active can lower cholesterol and your risk for colorectal cancer and breast cancer. Exercise can also help you maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese is a proven risk factor for both high cholesterol and many types of cancer.

  • Smoking cessation. You may already know smoking cigarettes can increase your chances of developing lung cancer. But it plays a part in other cancers, too. It also damages blood vessels and speeds up the clogging of your arteries.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

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