Cholesterol-lowering drugs may keep breast cancer at bay in some patients by acting on a specific gene linked to the disease, a new study finds.
Researchers, reporting in the journal Cell, said their study of mutations in a single gene shed light on how drugs known as statins might benefit some patients and might even be used to identify tumors likely to respond to the drugs.
"The data raises the possibility that we might identify subsets of patients whose tumors may respond to statins," said Carol Prives of Columbia University. "Of course we can't make any definitive conclusions until we know more."
The new study focused on a gene – known as the p53 tumor suppressor – that regulates the progression of cancer. Many people with certain kinds of cancer have mutations in the gene. Prives' team studied cancer cells grown to see how they would respond when targeted by cholesterol-lowering statins.
When the p53 cells were treated with statins, they stopped their “disorganized, invasive growth, and in some cases, even died,” researchers said.
While the findings are “encouraging,” Prives said more research will need to be done to confirm the possibility that statins could be effective in cancer treatment.
"It is what it is," she says. "There are great implications, but nothing clinical yet. Perhaps one could do a clinical trial, and that may support these findings, or it may be more complicated."