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Statins may lower risk of cancer death

A report being published in Thursday’s edition of the New England Journal of Medicine is one of a number of recent papers suggesting that statins not only limit the growth of cancer cells but also make them more vulnerable to certain therapies.

“Regular statin use before and after a diagnosis of cancer could theoretically reduce cancer-related mortality,” wrote study leader Sune F. Nielsen, a biochemist at the University of Copenhagen who based his findings on an analysis of more than 5.5 million people in Denmark.

Statins are already used by millions of Americans to improve their cardiovascular health by reducing the liver’s production of cholesterol. Though an excessive amount of cholesterol can inhibit blood flow by narrowing or blocking arteries, the waxy substance is actually necessary for good health.

Among other functions, cholesterol helps to build and maintain cell membranes, and is essential to their proliferation. Therefore, when cholesterol production is limited, the ability of cancer cells to reproduce uncontrollably is diminished, scientists say. There has also been some experimental evidence that statins may increase the effectiveness of radiation therapy.

Nielsen and his colleagues based their conclusions on an analysis of government death records and other medical data for the entire population of Denmark between 1995 and 2007.

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