Patients with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC) could benefit from combining radiation with simvastatin, a generic, low-cost medication typically prescribed to treat high cholesterol.
The novel treatment option was recently suggested in a new study conducted at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, in Houston, published in Stem Cells Translational Medicine, and led by Wendy Woodward, M.D., Ph.D. and Lara Lacerda, PharmD, Ph.D
“Our study showed for the first time that simvastatin combined with radiation improved the local recurrence-free survival rate of women with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), an aggressive variant of breast cancer with a dismal prognosis,” said principal investigator Wendy Woodward.
The researchers analyzed the medical records of 519 women with stage III IBC who were prescribed radiation treatment after mastectomy and compared those who were taking simvastatin at the time with those who were not. Only six patients who were taking high cholesterol medication experienced a local reappearance of the cancer — just 11 percent of the 53 patients — while the reappearance rate among the group of non users was 24 percent (114 of 466 patients).
Simvastatin, a drug from the pharmacological family of statins that is commonly prescribed to treat high cholesterol, appeared to make the tumor more sensitive to radiation therapy and attacked surviving cancer stem cells, while inhibiting two proteins that are crucial for the development of tumors. “Our data suggest that clinical trials combining simvastatin with radiation therapy for IBC patients should definitely be the next step,” Dr. Woodward said.
The researchers took interest in statins, and its effects on stem cells, after analyzing previous studies performed in Denmark, since one of the explanations for the spread of the tumor from one part of the body to another and the creation of secondary tumors is the migration of surviving cancer stem cells, which developed resistance to radiation. “Our curiosity was piqued by the Denmark study and we also began looking at statins and found they seemed to improve survival in IBC patients. In this latest study, we took it a step further,” Dr. Lacerda said.
Another study conducted in Edinburgh revealed that patients suffering from a disabling inflammatory lung condition known as bronchiectasis could improve the symptoms of the disease with the status drug atorvastatin, including a reduction in coughing, bacterial chest infections, and phlegm production.
“This study suggests a potential new therapeutic strategy to reduce the recurrence of certain breast cancers,” acknowledged Anthony Atala, M.D., editor of Stem Cells Translational Medicine and director of Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine.