top of page

Common cholesterol-lowering drugs may prevent cancer, surprising study finds

Study has uncovered a promising link between statins—widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs—and the prevention of cancer.
Study has uncovered a promising link between statins—widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs—and the prevention of cancer. (CREDIT: Creative Commons)

A recent study led by researchers from the Mass General Cancer Center, part of the Mass General Brigham healthcare system, has uncovered a promising link between statins—widely used cholesterol-lowering drugs—and the prevention of cancer caused by chronic inflammation. The groundbreaking findings were published in Nature Communications.

"Chronic inflammation is a major cause of cancer worldwide," stated Dr. Shawn Demehri, senior author of the study. Demehri is a principal investigator at the Center for Cancer Immunology and Cutaneous Biology Research Center at Massachusetts General Hospital and an associate professor of Dermatology at Harvard Medical School.



"We investigated the mechanism by which environmental toxins drive the initiation of cancer-prone chronic inflammation in the skin and pancreas," he explained. "Furthermore, we examined safe and effective therapies to block this pathway in order to suppress chronic inflammation and its cancer aftermath."

The research team utilized a comprehensive approach involving cell lines, animal models, human tissue samples, and epidemiological data. Their experiments revealed that exposure to environmental toxins, such as allergens and chemical irritants, activates two interconnected signaling pathways known as TLR3/4 and TBK1-IRF3. This activation triggers the production of interleukin-33 (IL-33), a protein that induces inflammation in the skin and pancreas, potentially leading to cancer development.



A pivotal discovery emerged when the researchers screened a library of U.S. Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs. They found that pitavastatin, a statin, effectively suppressed IL-33 expression by inhibiting the activation of the TBK1-IRF3 signaling pathway.

In mouse models, pitavastatin successfully reduced environmentally-induced inflammation in both the skin and pancreas, and it prevented the onset of inflammation-related pancreatic cancers.


Related News


Further investigations into human pancreas tissue samples revealed that IL-33 was overexpressed in samples from patients with chronic pancreatitis (inflammation) and pancreatic cancer, compared to normal pancreatic tissue.

Additionally, an analysis of electronic health records from over 200 million people across North America and Europe showed a significant association between pitavastatin use and a reduced risk of chronic pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer.



These findings suggest that blocking IL-33 production with pitavastatin could serve as a safe and effective strategy to prevent chronic inflammation and the subsequent development of certain cancers.

"Next, we aim to further examine the impact of statins in preventing cancer development in chronic inflammation in the liver and gastrointestinal tract and to identify other novel, therapeutic approaches to suppress cancer-prone chronic inflammation," said Demehri.

The implications of this study are profound. Chronic inflammation has long been recognized as a critical factor in the development of various cancers. By identifying a common medication like pitavastatin as a potential inhibitor of this process, researchers have opened the door to new preventive strategies that could significantly reduce cancer incidence.



The study’s methodology was robust, encompassing diverse experimental models and extensive data analysis. The use of cell lines and animal models provided controlled environments to test the effects of environmental toxins and pitavastatin.

Meanwhile, human tissue samples offered real-world evidence of IL-33's role in chronic inflammation and cancer. The large-scale epidemiological analysis further strengthened the study's conclusions by demonstrating the potential real-world impact of pitavastatin on reducing cancer risk.

Statins, typically prescribed to manage cholesterol levels, have long been valued for their cardiovascular benefits. Their potential role in cancer prevention could redefine their use and broaden their therapeutic applications. Given the safety profile of statins and their widespread availability, their integration into cancer prevention strategies could be both feasible and cost-effective.



This research also underscores the importance of interdisciplinary collaboration. The integration of oncology, dermatology, immunology, and epidemiology expertise was crucial in unraveling the complex relationship between environmental toxins, chronic inflammation, and cancer. Such collaborative efforts are essential for advancing our understanding of cancer mechanisms and developing innovative prevention and treatment strategies.

Looking ahead, the research team’s goal of exploring statins’ effects on chronic inflammation and cancer in other organs, such as the liver and gastrointestinal tract, is promising. Chronic inflammation in these areas is also linked to significant cancer risks, and if statins prove effective in these contexts, the impact on public health could be substantial.

Moreover, the quest to identify additional therapeutic approaches to combat chronic inflammation-induced cancers is critical. While statins show promise, they may not be suitable for all patients or all types of inflammation-induced cancers. Developing a range of targeted therapies will be necessary to address the diverse mechanisms and pathways involved in cancer development.



As the team continues to explore the broader applications of these findings, the future of cancer prevention looks increasingly promising.

For more science news stories check out our New Discoveries section at The Brighter Side of News.


Note: Materials provided above by the The Brighter Side of News. Content may be edited for style and length.


Like these kind of feel good stories? Get the Brighter Side of News' newsletter.



Commenting has been turned off.

Most Recent Stories

bottom of page