Statins are a group of drugs that are typically used to lower high cholesterol and treat heart disease by blocking a substance the body needs to make cholesterol. Statins have been found to induce apoptosis (programmed cell death) in mesothelioma cells and epidemiological evidence has suggested that people on statins have a lower incidence of cancer.
Based on these facts, researchers at Australia’s National Center for Asbestos Related Diseases hypothesized that statin drugs might be used to slow the progression of mesothelioma in patients who have it, and possibly even prevent mesothelioma development in asbestos-exposed workers.
To test the theory, the team treated mice infected with mesothelioma with varying doses of atorvastatin (Lipitor) in their daily food. But, even though the mice were getting a continuous dose of the statin drug, the rate at which they developed mesothelioma, the length of time it took to develop, and their rate of survival were unaffected.
Equally discouraging is the fact that a large study of asbestos-exposed Australians also failed to find a connection between statin use and lower mesothelioma incidence or longer survival. That study included 1,738 who lived or worked at the site of the now-closed crocidolite asbestos mine in Wittenoom, Western Australia. Those who were taking statins for their cholesterol developed mesothelioma at the same rate as those who were not on these drugs.
In a report in the open-access online medical journal PLoS One, the study’s lead author, Cleo Robinson, PhD, of the UWA’s School of Medicine and Pharmacology writes, “We conclude that statins do not moderate the rate of development of mesothelioma in either a mouse model or a human cohort exposed to asbestos.”
It can take 10 to 50 years for mesothelioma symptoms to develop after asbestos exposure. Researchers continue to try to find a preventive agent that can interrupt the development of mesothelioma before it takes hold. Once symptoms develop, most patients do not survive for more than a year.
Robinson, C et al, “Statins do Not Alter the Incidence of Mesothelioma in Asbestos Exposed Mice or Humans”, August 5, 2014, PLoS One