Sperling Prostate Center

Can Statins Lower Prostate Cancer Risk and Help Survive COVID-19?

Did you know that cholesterol was first isolated from gallstones in 1784, and that 13 Nobel Prizes have gone to scientists researching cholesterol?[i] That history culminates in a banner year for statin drugs: in 1987, the FDA approved the first commercial statin for the management of cholesterol.

A multipurpose drug

Statins have saved millions of lives since then by helping prevent cardiovascular disease and reducing the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Within the past two decades, statins have also been found to help with other health problems. Medical headlines like these witness to the versatile nature of statins:

  • “A better treatment for saphenous vein graft disease after coronary artery bypass surgery: Might statins be the answer at the right dose to the right patient at the right time?”
  • “Certain Cholesterol-Lowering Statins May Decrease Risk of ALS, Large Medicare-based Study Suggests”
  • “Statins inhibit T?acute lymphoblastic leukemia cell adhesion and migration through Rap1b”

I recently posted an article on the potential of longer-term statin use to protect against low- and high-grade PCa. In it, I cite a study by Wang, et al. (2019)[ii] that centers on statins’ chemopreventive effect at the cellular level, and I invite you to read that blog. Now I want to focus on the anti-inflammatory quality of statins because prostate inflammation is a precursor for cancer, as well as a pro-cancer factor that sabotages the immune system’s anti-cancer activity.

Anti-inflammatory property

A particular feature of statins that accounts in part for their multipurpose nature, including discouraging cancer, is their anti-inflammatory property. Inflammation is implicated in many disease states, including cancer. Here are a few scientific findings about their effects:

  1. By reducing inflammation, they may boost positive outcomes in cardiovascular emergencies, independent of the cholesterol-lowering effects
  2. They have shown benefit in conditions not strongly linked with high cholesterol, suggesting an anti-inflammatory influence
  3. Clinical studies on endothelial function and organ transplantation connect their anti-inflammatory capability with favorable results
  4. Their use is associated with a reduction of biomarkers for inflammation, suggesting control of disease progression
  5. They may inhibit the expression of molecules and biochemicals that recruit inflammatory cells.[iii]

All of the above certainly applies to prostate inflammation. Allot, et al. (2017) write, “In addition to their targeted cholesterol-lowering properties, statins reduce systemic inflammation and have been associated with reduced inflammatory infiltrate in prostate tumors.”[iv] The idea that a drug as inexpensive and widely used as a statin could keep men safer from PCa is remarkable. But I want to share even more dramatic news related to statins and the potentially deadly COVID-19 pandemic.

Statins support COVID-19 survival

A research team out of Singapore has just published a paper titled “Potential Role of Statins in COVID-19.”[v] The authors point to the anti-inflammatory effect of statins (as well as two other effects) as a promising adjunct to other treatments for patients with severe cases of COVID-19. Not only are their lives on the line from respiratory failure, the disease can generate cardiovascular complications, lethal blood clots, and stroke. Their bodies go into a hyper-inflamed state that is difficult to put the brakes on.

Because of the unique disease process of the novel coronavirus, some drugs that would normally be used for the above symptoms can make them worse. Thus, the authors suggest that for COVID-19, the anti-inflammatory ability of statins may improve outcomes in increasingly severe illness and worsening respiratory failure. They note that during the 2009 H1N1 pandemic that also led to severe respiratory distress, “…statin therapy was associated with reduced disease severity among hospitalized patients.”

The authors call for in-depth study of the anti-inflammatory role statins could play for hospitalized COVID-19 patients. Since it’s not yet proven, such clinical study would help identify which COVID-19 patients could benefit, and the type and dose of statin to be given.

I agree, and would also like to see more studies on the role of statins in lowering cancer risk, especially PCa.

NOTE: This content is solely for purposes of information and does not substitute for diagnostic or medical advice. Talk to your doctor if you are experiencing pelvic pain, or have any other health concerns or questions of a personal medical nature.

[i] Endo A. A historical perspective on the discovery of statins. Proc Jpn Acad Ser B Phys Biol Sci. 2010 May 11; 86(5): 484–493.
[ii] Wang K, Gerke TA, Chen X, Propseri M. Association of statin use with risk of Gleason score-specific prostate cancer: A hospital-based cohort study. Cancer Med. 2019 Dec;8(17):7399-7407.
[iii] Jain, M., Ridker, P. Anti-Inflammatory Effects of Statins: Clinical Evidence and Basic Mechanisms. Nat Rev Drug Discov 4, 977–987 (2005).
[iv] Allott EH, Howard LE, Vidal AC, et al. Statin Use, Serum Lipids, and Prostate Inflammation in Men with a Negative Prostate Biopsy: Results from the REDUCE Trial. Cancer Prev Res (Phila). 2017;10(6):319-326.
[v] Lee KCH, Sewa DW, Phua GC. Potential role of statins in COVID-19 [published online ahead of print, 2020 Jun 2]. Int J Infect Dis. 2020;96:615-617.


About Dr. Dan Sperling

Dan Sperling, MD, DABR, is a board certified radiologist who is globally recognized as a leader in multiparametric MRI for the detection and diagnosis of a range of disease conditions. As Medical Director of the Sperling Prostate Center, Sperling Medical Group and Sperling Neurosurgery Associates, he and his team are on the leading edge of significant change in medical practice. He is the co-author of the new patient book Redefining Prostate Cancer, and is a contributing author on over 25 published studies. For more information, contact the Sperling Prostate Center.

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