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Statin use improves renal cell cancer survival

April 17, 2015 | Dagny Stuart

A new study led by Vanderbilt University investigators found that patients being treated with statins at the time of surgery for kidney cancer, also known as renal cell carcinoma, had improved overall survival and disease-specific survival. Drugs known as statins are widely used to lower cholesterol and previous studies have indicated that they could be associated with changes in cancer outcomes.

The study by lead author Peter Clark, M.D., professor of Urologic Surgery, and first author Samuel Kaffenberger, M.D., former VU medical resident, was published in the January issue of Urologic Oncology.

Peter Clark, M.D.

Peter Clark, M.D.

Statins work by inhibiting an enzyme in a specific cellular pathway and disrupting this pathway is thought to interfere with cancer growth and metastasis. However, previous research evaluating the association between statin use and cancer has produced contradictory results. Nearly 65,000 new cases of renal cell carcinoma are diagnosed each year in the United States, with approximately 13,500 deaths in 2012. Surgery to remove a portion or all of the cancerous kidney is a common treatment for a disease that does not always respond well to other anti-cancer therapies.

For this study, investigators conducted a retrospective analysis of 916 patients who underwent surgery at VUMC to remove all or part of a kidney harboring cancerous cells. The median follow-up of the patient group was 42.5 months.

The study revealed a 38 percent reduction in the risk of death and a 52 percent reduction in the risk of disease-specific death for patients taking the cholesterol-lowering drugs. The authors found three-year overall survival for patients taking statins at the time of surgery was 83.1 percent and 77.3 percent for nonusers. Three-year disease-specific survival was 90.9 percent for statin users and 83.5 percent for nonusers. The results were consistent in an analysis of patients whose disease had not spread beyond the kidney.

“Our data suggest that statin use at the time of surgery is independently associated with improved overall survival and disease-specific survival,” Clark said. “This study is among the first research confirming a survival advantage for patients who are taking these drugs.”

Patients who were taking statin drugs at the time of surgery tended to be older men and the median age was 60.8 years.

Other investigators participating in the study include Opal Lin-Tsai, Daniel Barocas, M.D., MPH, Sam Chang, M.D., S. Duke Herrell, M.D., Joseph Smith Jr., M.D., Vanderbilt; Kelly Stratton, M.D., Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, New York; Todd Morgan, M.D., University of Michigan Health System, Ann Arbor; and Michael Cookson, M.D., University of Oklahoma College of Medicine, Oklahoma City.

The research was supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health (K08 CA113452, TL1 TR000447), and the Vanderbilt Medical Scholars Program.