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Cholesterol Drugs Extend Mesothelioma Survival in New Study

cholesterol drugs

Cholesterol drugs called statins have been shown to improve survival among mesothelioma patients taking PD-1 inhibitors. 

The news comes from an international study from cancer researchers in Italy and the Netherlands. 

More than 250 patients with pleural mesothelioma or non-small cell lung cancer were evaluated for the study. Researchers found that those who took cholesterol drugs while also receiving PD-1 blockers like Keytruda lived longer and had slower disease progression. 

Mesothelioma Patients and Statins

The body needs some cholesterol to build healthy cells. But many adults have too much cholesterol in their blood. This can lead to fatty deposits in the arteries that raise the risk for heart disease and stroke. 

Cholesterol drugs called statins are designed to bring cholesterol levels back down into normal range. They can lower the risk for heart disease and other problems associated with high cholesterol.

Statins are some of the most commonly prescribed medications among adults – including adults with pleural mesothelioma or lung cancer. The new European study aimed to find out if these patients’ use of cholesterol drugs had an impact on their cancer treatment. 

PD-1 Blockers + Cholesterol Drugs

Malignant mesothelioma is one of the hardest types of cancer to treat. It is highly resistant to many standard cancer treatments, including chemotherapy. Even though most mesothelioma patients start with chemotherapy, many progress to other treatments. 

One of the most promising new treatment approaches for pleural mesothelioma is PD-1 blockers. PD-1 is a protein that protects cancer cells from cancer-killing immune system cells. Opdivo and Yervoy, the newest drugs approved for mesothelioma, are examples of drugs that block PD-1.

In the new study, researchers examined the medical records of 253 cancer patients on PD-1 blockers. Eighty-two patients had pleural mesothelioma and 179 had lung cancer. Some of the patients were on cholesterol drugs and others were not. 

A Powerful Combination 

It turns out that taking statins and PD-1 blockers together is a powerful combination. It took more than twice as long for tumors to start growing again (6.7 months versus 2.4 months) among mesothelioma patients on cholesterol drugs. The overall survival among all of the patients was almost five months longer. 

“Multivariable analysis confirmed the correlation between statin use and better progression free survival and overall survival in malignant pleural mesothelioma,” reports lead author Luca Cantini of the AOU Ospedali Riuniti Ancona, Italy. 

Patients on the highest doses of cholesterol drugs had the best responses. “Our study showed that statins are associated with better clinical outcome in MPM and aNSCLC patients treated with PD-1 inhibitors in an intensity-dependent manner,” concludes Dr. Cantini.

Mesothelioma patients on chemotherapy and statins saw no increase in overall survival. 


Cantini, L, et al, “High-intensity statins are associated with improved clinical activity of PD-1 inhibitors in malignant pleural mesothelioma and advanced non-small cell lung cancer patients”, December 13, 2020, European Journal of Cancer, Online ahead of print, https://www.ejcancer.com/article/S0959-8049(20)31318-6/fulltext

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