Men who were taking statins to lower their cholesterol had a 10% greater chance of being cured of prostate cancer by radiation therapy 10 years after diagnosis, a new study finds.

It's an intriguing and very interesting finding." but falls short of supporting statin use for all prostate cancer patients, said study author Michael J. Zelefsky, MD, a professor of radiation oncology at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. "But I would encourage men to see their internist and get on the medications if their blood cholesterol warranted it," he said.

The Study

Dr. Zelefsky reported on 871 men given radiation therapy for prostate cancer between 1995 and 2000. The five-year relapse-free survival rate for the 168 men taking statins was 91% while the 10-year survival rate was 76%. That compares to 81% and 66%, respectively, for those not taking the drugs.

Possible Explanations

"There have been some reports of a lower risk of developing prostate cancer for those men who have been on statins," Dr. Zelefsky sald, but the possible mechanisms by which the drugs might help prevent the disease or cure it are unknown.

"There was a suggestion made of a possible added benefit by an interaction between the drug and radiation," he said. "Or does it have its own independent effect? That is possible as well."

Two recent reports have linked statin use with a lower risk of developing prostate cancer. One study, from the University of Alabama, Birmingham, found a decline in prostate cancer death rates that was most notable among white men who used statins.

Another study, from Duke University Medical Center, found lower blood levels of prostates-pecific antigen (PSA), a potential marker of the cancer, among men taking statins.

Clinical Trial Needed

Dr. Zelefsky noted that these studies suggesting a beneficial effect of statins on prostate cancer, might fuel doctors to undertake a randomized, controlled trial, which is the best way to corroborate such an effect.

Eric Horwitz, MD, clinical director of radiation oncology at the Fox Chase Cancer Center in Philadelphia, said he agreed with Dr. Zelefsky's call for a tightly monitored clinical trial. "There has been great success in running these large tests, and I'm sure it can be done.

A study on statin use in prostate cancer prevention or treatment should center on men at higher risk. In other words, Dr. Zelefsky said, "older men with a family history."

There is no significant downside to statin use in such studies because the drugs have a low rate of adverse side effects, he said.

As it is, many men diagnosed with prostate cancer are already taking statins, and there is no reason for them to stop, Dr. Horwitz said. "This report is reassuring because of the overlap."

Millions Taking Drug That Doesn't Work

Zetia—and a pill that contains it, Vytorin L failed to slow the accumulation of plaque in arteries.

Result: Millions of patients may be taking a drug that doesn't benefit them.

Going forward: Discuss with your doctor whether Zetia or Vytorin is the best therapy for you, or if you should take a more standard statin therapy.

Statin Lowers Dementia Risk by Nearly 50%

Researchers who analyzed medical data on more than 700,000 users of simvastatin (Zocor) found that the cholesterol-lowering drug was associated with a reduction in incidence of Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease by nearly 50% in people age 65 or older who had taken statins for at least seven months. No similar results were found in study subjects taking the statins lovastatin (Mevacor) or atorvastatin (Lipitor).

Theory: Simvastatin's beneficial effect may be due to its ability to enter the brain and reduce both inflammation and cholesterol. More research is needed, but if you take simvastatin to lower cholesterol, a brain-protective effect may be an added benefit.

Don't Forget: Statins Can Cause Memory Loss

Cognitive problems are the second most common side effect of the cholesterol-lowering drugs, after muscle pain and weakness. Despite recent evidence linking statins with the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease, people taking Lipitor, Zocor, Pravachol, Mevacor and other statins have reported a variety of cognitive disturbances, including slowly developing memory problems, disorientation, confusion and, in some cases, temporary complete amnesia lasting for hours or days. Generally, these memory problems disappear with time, but in some people, they can last for years. This side effect is not widely known.

Self-defense: Talk with your doctor about the benefits and risks of taking statins to lower cholesterol

New Patch Treats Alzheimer's

People with mild-to-moderate Alzheimer's disease can now get help from a skin patch. The patch-recently approved by the FDA contains rivastigmine (Exelon), a drug previously available only in capsule form and as an oral solution. The patch delivers the drug continuously throughout the day and causes fewer gastrointestinal side effects, such as nausea and vomiting, than the oral forms.

Hypertension Drugs May Fight Alzheimer's

In experiments on mice genetically at risk for Alzheimer's, seven of 55 hypertension drugs tested slowed the buildup of beta-amyloid proteins, which form plaque in the brains of people with Alzheimer's. A study on humans has not yet been planned.

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