Emma Alcott

Irish research - use of cholesterol lowering drugs may cut risk of lethal prostate cancer

New research funded by the Irish Cancer Society has found that men who are on statins may have a reduced risk of developing a more lethal form of prostate cancer. This research, published today in Clinical Cancer Research, a journal of the American Association for Cancer Research, was carried out by Dr Emma Allott, Lecturer at Queen’s University Belfast, and colleagues at Trinity College Dublin and the Dana-Farber/Harvard Cancer Center. 

Statins are drugs that are often used to help lower cholesterol levels and can reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke and heart disease. Previous studies have suggested that statins could have a role in slowing down the growth of different types of cancers. The research of Dr Allott and her colleagues has specifically looked at ways statins might affect prostate cancer, using data from a study funded by the U.S. National Cancer Institute.

Dr Allott and her colleagues have discovered that there were no differences in the overall rates of prostate cancer among men who were prescribed statins. However, men who had taken statin medicines had a 24% reduced risk of developing a more lethal type of prostate cancer when compared to men who were not.

Dr Allott, Lecturer at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology and Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast, said “Some prostate cancers are slow growing and will not affect the man over the course of his lifetime, but others are aggressive and often deadly. My work is to understand the biology driving these different types of prostate cancer in order to reduce the number of men who develop this lethal form of the disease.

“By studying a large group of men who had been monitored for 24* years, we were able to see the link between statin use and the prevention of lethal prostate cancer. We then looked at tissue samples from some of these men to try and understand why the statin use was having this impact.

“Although the findings are at an early stage, we were able to see that statin use may affect inflammation and immunity levels in the prostates of some men as well as having an effect on the characteristics of the tumour itself. Our findings are in agreement with some of the known biology of statins but are the first to observe these effects in prostate cancer.”

Dr Robert O’Connor Irish Cancer Society Head of Research said “Dr Allott is part of the next generation of prostate cancer research leaders, whose work is making a significant contribution to our knowledge and understanding of this challenging disease.  While we are not recommending that men start taking statins unless prescribed to do so, this study provides us with building blocks to further explore how statins could be used to combat aggressive prostate cancer in the future.”

About prostate cancer
After non-melanoma skin cancer, prostate cancer is the most common cancer in men in Ireland, with 1 in 8 men at risk of developing the disease in their lifetime.  Each year, over 3,600 men are diagnosed with prostate cancer in Ireland and approximately 500 men die each year from prostate cancer.

Through the Irish Cancer Society’s Cancer Nurseline (Freephone 1800 200 700) and Daffodil Centres in 13 hospitals, men throughout the country are able to receive free, confidential, expert information on prostate cancer including early detection, diagnosis, treatment and follow-up care.  

About Dr Allott
Dr Emma Allott is a molecular cancer epidemiologist who studies diet and lifestyle factors driving prostate cancer risk and progression by looking at data from large human studies alongside tumour samples.

In 2016, Dr Allott was awarded the first Professor John Fitzpatrick Research Fellowship – a three-year grant award established by the Irish Cancer Society, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute/Harvard Cancer Center, and Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health to fund an Irish scientist to undertake high quality research into prostate cancer. 

The Fellowship is named in memory of the late Professor John Fitzpatrick, the former Head of Research at the Irish Cancer Society, who made a significant contribution internationally to research, particularly in the field of prostate cancer. 

The Fellowship, which is made possible by educational awards from Sanofi and Janssen Ireland, represents an investment of more than €200,000 in this unique transatlantic cancer research collaboration. The Fellowship provides the opportunity to work with global leaders in prostate cancer research, Dr Lorelei Mucci, Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Dr Stephen Finn, Associate Professor and Consultant Pathologist at Trinity College Dublin, and Dr Christopher Sweeney, Medical Oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.

Dr Allott is a Lecturer in Molecular Cancer Epidemiology and Nutrition at the Centre for Cancer Research and Cell Biology and Institute for Global Food Security at Queen’s University Belfast. She is Adjunct Assistant Professor in the School of Medicine at Trinity College Dublin and a Visiting Scientist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. 

*Using data from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study (HPFS) which included 44,126 men cancer-free in 1990, followed for prostate cancer incidence through 2014, with statin use recorded on biennial questionnaires