Statins, a class of drugs commonly used to lower cholesterol, improved progression-free survival in patients with inflammatory breast cancer (IBC), according to a recent study. This study followed a Danish study that suggested that the anti-inflammatory properties of statins could reduce the risk of breast cancer recurrence, though the effects of statins had not been studied in IBC.

IBC is a rare type of breast cancer that develops quickly when malignant cells block lymph vessels in the skin and soft tissue. It accounts for only 1% to 5% of all invasive breast cancers, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).

The investigators reviewed 724 patients with a diagnosis of stage III inflammatory breast cancer who underwent treatment at M.D. Anderson between 1995 and 2011. Patients with records indicating statin use at the time of diagnosis were compared with those not taking statins. The stage III group contained 74 statin users and 650 nonusers. The primary end point was progression-free survival, and secondary end points measured overall survival and disease-specific survival. The outcomes of the patients in the statin group were compared based on if they were taking a lipophilic (fat-soluble) or hydrophilic (water-soluble) statin.

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Patients with no record of statin use had 1.76 years disease-free survival, while patients who took lipophilic statins saw improved survival rates of 2.47 years. The greatest improvement in survival was noted in patients with past hydrophilic statin use at 4.88 years.

Increased survival rates also extended to the disease-specific survival end point. Patients with no statin use measured a disease-specific survival of 4.52 years, while patients on hydrophilic statins measured 5.10 years.

The authors note there is a trend in overall survival, though the overall survival end point did not reach statistical significance.

“This is an existing drug that was not developed for cancer and while developing new agents is important, statins are currently in the market and may have a significant role in the treatment we provide,” said Naoto T. Ueno, MD, PhD, of The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center.

“The previous Danish study looking at statins examined a much larger group of participants, around 10,000 and more. So we’re talking about a much smaller set of inflammatory breast cancer patients and to see the significant improvement in survival gives us a new perspective on the use of statins,” said Ueno.

M.D. Anderson researchers are planning prospective randomized trials in IBC patients to better evaluate the potential survival benefits of statins and which subsets of patients would be best suited for statin use. Statins have an important convenience factor, since patients can take them anywhere and require only occasional follow-up.

This study was presented at the 2012 CTRC-AACR San Antonio Breast Cancer Symposium, held December 4-8, 2012.