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Aspecific genetic variant in some patients affects how well statins control both colorectal cancer and cardiovascular disease risk, according to a study by the University of Michigan (U-M) Comprehensive Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Researchers believe a genetic test for the variant would indicate which patients are most likely to benefit from the drug, says senior author Stephen Gruber, MD, PhD, MPH, director of cancer prevention and control at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.1 Researchers had previously demonstrated that statins, which 25 million people worldwide take each day to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease, can cut the risk of colorectal cancer by approximately 50%.

Dr. Gruber and his colleagues examined 2138 individuals in Northern Israel who were diagnosed with colon cancer and 2049 people without colon cancer. All were asked about their statin use for controlling cholesterol. Researchers also took blood samples from all participants and analyzed their genes, finding that the gene targeted by statins, HMGCR, is the same gene that predicts the drug's ability to prevent colorectal cancer. There are 2 versions of HMGCR—long and short. Researchers found that statins are better able to reduce both colorectal cancer risk and cholesterol with the gene's long version. “The gene test by itself doesn't predict whether you're at increased risk for colon cancer; it predicts only how well statins lower the risk,” Dr. Gruber noted in a news release issued by U-M.

Although it is easy to know whether statins are successfully lowering cholesterol, the same is not true for preventing colorectal cancer. That is why a genetic test would be useful, researchers note. They believe statins may lower colorectal cancer risk by decreasing inflammation, which is a known contributor to colon cancer development.

Statins are not approved by the US Food and Drug Administration for colorectal cancer prevention, and currently no genetic test is available to determine who would benefit from receiving them.

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  • 1
    Lipkin SM, Chao EC, Moreno V, et al. Genetic variation in 3-hydroxy-3-methylglutaryl CoA reductase modifies the chemo preventive activity of statins for colorectal cancer. Cancer Prev Res (Phila Pa). 2010; 3: 597-603.