Statins are medicines taken to lower “bad” (LDL) cholesterol. Zocor and Vytorin (chemical name: simvastatin), Pravachol (chemical name: pravastatin), Lipitor (chemical name: atorvastatin), and Crestor (chemical name: rosuvastatin) are all statins.
A study found that women who were taking a statin during and after being treated for breast cancer with anthracycline chemotherapy had fewer heart problems than women who weren’t taking a statin.
The research was published in the December 2012 issue of the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Read the abstract of "Effect of Statin Therapy on the Risk for Incident Heart Failure in Patients with Breast Cancer Receiving Anthracycline Chemotherapy."
Anthracyclines kill cancer cells by damaging their genes and interfering with their reproduction. Adriamycin (chemical name: doxorubicin), Doxil (chemical name: doxorubicin), and Ellence (chemical name: epirubicin) are all anthracyclines. While anthracyclines increase breast cancer survival rates, they can have a toxic effect on the heart. Women who get anthracycline chemotherapy should be tested for heart problems before starting chemotherapy and should be continuously monitored for developing problems during treatment.
This study was a retrospective study, which means the researchers analyzed information that had been collected before the study was designed. Retrospective studies aren’t considered as good as studies that are designed first and then collect new information specifically for that study.
Studies done with animals suggested that statins might help protect the heart during anthracycline chemotherapy; the researchers wondered if the same might be true for people.
To find out, the researchers reviewed the medical records of 628 women who had been recently diagnosed with breast cancer. They identified 67 women who were taking a statin during and after anthracycline chemotherapy and then found 134 similar women who weren’t taking a statin during anthracycline chemotherapy.
After about 2.5 years of follow-up:
- four women who were taking a statin developed a new heart problem
- 23 women who weren’t taking a statin developed a new heart problem
This difference was significant, which means that it was likely due to the statin and not just to chance.
While these results are promising, they are early results. Much more research is needed to understand the role statins may play in protecting the heart during anthracycline chemotherapy.
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer and anthracycline chemotherapy will be part of your treatment plan, it’s a good idea to ask your doctor about your risk of treatment-related heart damage and whether or not visiting a cardiologist before treatment starts is a good idea for you. The cardiologist can evaluate your heart function and decide if you’re at high risk for developing heart disease or heart failure from breast cancer treatment. You also may want to ask your oncologist how your heart function will be monitored during treatment.
Together, you can decide on the best treatment plan for your unique situation.