New Study Shows A Common Medication Could Reduce Breast Cancer Mortality Rates

Breast cancer is the most common cancer worldwide, affecting more than 2 million women each year, according to the World Health Organization. While your family history, alcohol use, or postmenopausal hormone therapy are some factors that can increase your risk for breast cancer, half of women diagnosed with breast cancer only have two risk factors — their sex and being over 40.

While it's difficult for researchers to isolate specific risk factors that can lead to a breast cancer diagnosis, researchers have found significant associations between cholesterol and breast cancer, according to a 2019 article in Breast Cancer Research. A 2021 article in Nature Communications found that breast cancer cells consume cholesterol to help them survive. Even if some of the cancer cells die, the ones that survive become more resistant to the body's defense mechanisms and can spread through the body.

Now researchers are looking at statins, a key treatment for cholesterol, to reduce the risk of dying from breast cancer.

Lowering cholesterol might prevent breast cancer death

A 2023 study in JAMA Network Open followed more than 13,000 women with invasive breast cancer. Women who started taking prescription statins to lower cholesterol after their initial breast cancer diagnosis had a lower likelihood of dying from their cancer. The reduction in risk was more notable when their cholesterol levels also went down, and those on a stronger statin prescription experienced a more significant risk reduction. However, if cholesterol levels didn't decrease after taking statins, the risk of mortality didn't decrease. In simpler terms, the statins alone weren't solely responsible for the risk reduction.

Statins were more beneficial when the breast cancer was estrogen receptor-positive and localized, meaning it hadn't spread extensively. However, statins didn't show the same benefit in more aggressive types of breast cancer or cases where the cancer had spread. Using statins before a breast cancer diagnosis wasn't associated with better outcomes and might even suggest overall poor health.