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Will Statin Drugs Help Fight Cancer?

Scientists are learning exactly how statin drugs such as pitavastatin can stop some cancer cells from growing wildly out of control.
A variety of statin drugs

Many people take statin drugs to control their cholesterol. Now researchers at Johns Hopkins have found evidence that statin drugs may also help kill cancer cells (PNAS, Feb. 25, 2020).

Statin Drugs Against  Cancer:

Epidemiological studies have long suggested that people taking statins are less prone to cancer. Researchers report benefit in conditions as varied as Barrett’s esophagus, multiple myeloma and prostate cancer (Scientific Reports, March 17, 2020; American Journal of Hematology, March 6, 2020; Cancer Medicine, Feb. 8, 2020).

The new research reviewed the effects of 2,500 medicines on cancer cells with a mutation in a gene called PTEN. This gene helps the cells make an enzyme that keeps cells from growing too rapidly. The mutation interferes with the enzyme’s ability to regulate growth, and cancer cells start to multiply without any brakes.

Figuring Out How Statins Help:

Statin drugs in general and pitavastatin (Livalo) in particular killed the cancer cells that had a PTEN mutation. At the same time, they did not kill many healthy cells. Pitavastatin blocks the manufacture of a compound that connects cell membranes to cell proteins. This natural agent is called GGPP (for geranylgeranyl diphosphate). Blocking GGPP sets the cancer cells up to starve to death. Without it, they can’t send out extensions of their cell membranes that they normally use to engulf nutrients. Consequently, they can’t absorb the amino acids and proteins necessary for their survival. As a result, they die.

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About the Author
Terry Graedon, PhD, is a medical anthropologist and co-host of The People’s Pharmacy radio show, co-author of The People’s Pharmacy syndicated newspaper columns and numerous books, and co-founder of The People’s Pharmacy website. Terry taught in the Duke University School of Nursing and was an adjunct assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology. She is a Fellow of the Society of Applied Anthropology. Terry is one of the country's leading authorities on the science behind folk remedies. .
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  • Jiao Z et al, "Statin-induced GGPP depletion blocks macropinocytosis and starves cells with oncogenic defects." PNAS, Feb. 25, 2020. https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.1917938117
  • Kambhampati S et al, "Risk factors for progression of Barrett's esophagus to high grade dysplasia and esophageal adenocarcinoma." Scientific Reports, March 17, 2020. DOI: 10.1038/s41598-020-61874-7
  • Brånvall E et al, "Statin use is associated with improved survival in multiple myeloma: A Swedish population-based study of 4,315 patients." American Journal of Hematology, March 6, 2020. DOI: 10.1002/ajh.25778
  • Tan XL et al, "Individual and joint effects of metformin and statins on mortality among patients with high-risk prostate cancer." Cancer Medicine, Feb. 8, 2020. DOI: 10.1002/cam4.2862
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I have been on statins since 2001, and I still had a Melanoma which, thank goodness, was caught early and treated. So, nice thought but not buying statins prevents cancer.

I hope it’s true that taking statin drugs fights off cancer. My dad died of cancer, and my mom has cancer, stage 4. It is a horrible and painful disease. I take statin drugs for my cholesterol, and when my time comes I hope it’s not from cancer because you really suffer.

This research sounds a like a winner in the fight against cancer, but if pitavastatin “blocks the manufacture of a compound that connects cell membranes to cell proteins,” how can it tell the difference between a cancer cell and a perfectly functional, healthy cell? Since a statin destroyed my muscle and nerve health, probably by the same process, I would decline to take one under any circumstance if I had cancer.

Yes, but it can make your memory really bad!

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