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Statins may lower the risk of ovarian cancer

24 February 2020
Appeared in BioNews 1036

Scientists from the University of Bristol have found a potential connection between the intake of statins and a reduction in ovarian cancer risk.

In this study, published in JAMA and funded by Cancer Research UK, the scientists compared the rate of ovarian cancer amongst 63,347 women with a wide age range. They found that women who naturally exhibit low activity of an enzyme called HMG-CoA reductase had a 40 percent lower risk of ovarian cancer.

In the human body HMG-CoA is responsible for regulating cholesterol levels and is a target for statin drugs. Statins inhibit the enzyme to reduce the level of low-density lipoproteins or 'bad cholesterol'. However, the study did not look into whether the women took statins.

Professor Richard Martin, whose research group conducted the study, said in a press release: 'It's incredibly interesting that women whose bodies naturally inhibit the enzyme targeted by statins have a lower risk of ovarian cancer.'

However, he discourages taking statins as a precautionary measure for now. 'While the research suggests a potential protective role in ovarian cancer risk, these findings alone cannot establish whether taking these drugs would definitely lower cancer risk. The potential protective effects of taking these drugs would need to be shown in a randomised controlled trial first before statin therapy could be encouraged as a method for reducing ovarian cancer risk.'

In the UK, ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in women with around 7400 cases each year. In the United States, around 22,240 cases are diagnosed each year and 14,000 women die. The prognosis is generally poor because the cancer is often diagnosed very late.

Dr Rachel Orritt of Cancer Research UK told Sciencefocus: '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.' 

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