Combining statins with chemotherapy doesn’t extend survival in lung cancer

In collaboration with the Press Association

Taking cholesterol-lowering statins doesn’t benefit lung cancer patients when used alongside chemotherapy, according to new research funded by Cancer Research UK.

Previous studies have said statins could play a role in preventing cancer, as well as extending survival in patients with several common cancers, including lung cancer.

But a new study, published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology, from Imperial College London and University College London (UCL) scientists, shows the drugs have no positive effect as a treatment for patients with small cell lung cancer.

The trial included 846 patients from 91 hospitals in the UK, who were monitored for two years, making it the largest randomised trial of statin treatment in cancer patients to date.

"Collectively, this evidence seems quite persuasive"Professor Allan Hackshaw, Cancer Research UK

Professor Allan Hackshaw, an author on the study, believes the evidence is so strong that any existing or planned trials of statins as a cancer treatment should be reconsidered.

"Collectively, this evidence seems quite persuasive,” he said.

But he added: “It is possible that ongoing statin trials of other types of cancers might find a benefit. So it would be interesting to see their findings when available”.

Hackshaw encouraged researchers to carefully consider starting new statins trials as part of cancer treatment before the results come in from similar large studies.

The researchers found that combining statins with chemotherapy didn’t increase the overall amount of time that patients survived, or the time it took for their disease to get worse, compared to standard chemotherapy plus a placebo.

Those treated with statins didn’t experience any adverse effects from the drug.

Professor Michael Seckl, who led the research, stressed that those prescribed statins for cholesterol should not stop taking them, but that it was “extremely unlikely for patients with small cell lung cancer that taking statins will make any difference to their cancer treatment outcome.”

Professor Dean Fennell, a Cancer Research UK expert in lung cancer, commended the research and said it was proof of how hard it is to find new treatments for this type of lung cancer.

It also highlights the need to “move away from a one size fits all approach to treatment,” he said.

 “We now need further research into more targeted treatments. And using new technologies to understand the faulty genes at play in each patient’s tumour, or immunotherapy, may be a more promising way to improve survival for this terrible disease.”

References

Seckl M.J et al. (2017) Multicenter, Phase III, Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo- Controlled Trial of Pravastatin Added to First-Line Standard Chemotherapy in Small-Cell Lung Cancer (LUNGSTAR). Journal of Clinical Oncology DOI: 10.1200/JCO.2016.69.7391