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Could statins lower the risk of ovarian cancer?

Press release issued: 18 February 2020

In the UK, ovarian cancer is the sixth most common cancer in females*. A new study has found evidence to suggest that statins could lower the risk of women developing ovarian cancer. The research led by the University of Bristol, and funded by Cancer Research UK, is published today [18 February] in JAMA.

Some previous observational epidemiological studies have suggested a link between statin use, a commonly prescribed medicine to reduce cholesterol, and a lower risk of ovarian cancer. However, the studies have been unclear whether statin use itself was driving this association or whether some other difference between statin users and non-users was lowering the risk of ovarian cancer.

Using a genetic epidemiological approach, known as Mendelian randomization, which can more reliably evaluate causal relationships between characteristics, such as drug targets, molecular traits, behaviours and health outcomes, the researchers found evidence to suggest that statins may lower the risk of ovarian cancer.

The findings were shown in both women who had no known family history of ovarian cancer and in those with mutations in BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes that put them at a higher lifetime risk of the disease. 

In total, the study included 22,406 women with ovarian cancer and 40,941 women without ovarian cancer (controls). The study also assessed the relationship of statins with ovarian cancer risk in 3,887 women with ovarian cancer, who were also carriers of BRCA1/2 mutations, and compared these with 27,561 women without ovarian cancer who were also carriers of BRCA1/2 mutations.

James Yarmolinsky, Integrative Cancer Epidemiology Programme Research Associate in the Bristol Medical School: Population Health Sciences (PHS), who led the research, said: "While previous findings have suggested a correlation between statin use and a lower risk of ovarian cancer, these are the first findings to suggest that this relationship may be causal.

"If our findings were to be confirmed in a randomised controlled trial, statin use could be a viable non-surgical approach for reducing the risk of women developing ovarian cancer in the future, including women who are carriers of BRCA1/2 mutations and are thus at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer over their lifetime."

The research team's findings suggest that the use of statins, which are commonly prescribed, inexpensive, and safe, might be a new method for cancer prevention, as there are very few proven non-surgical approaches available to lower the risk of ovarian cancer.

Richard Martin, Professor of Clinical Epidemiology in the Bristol Medical School: (PHS), added: "While the research suggests a potential protective role in ovarian cancer risk, these findings alone cannot establish whether taking these drugs would definitely lower cancer risk.

"The potential protective effects of taking these drugs would need to be shown in a randomised controlled trial first before statin therapy could be encouraged as a method for reducing ovarian cancer risk."

The next steps include testing the study’s findings in independent datasets using alternative epidemiological approaches along with unpicking the potential biological mechanisms underlying this association.


'Association between genetically proxied inhibition of HMG-CoA reductase and epithelial ovarian cancer' by James Yarmolinsky, Caroline J Bull, Emma E Vincent, Jamie Robinson, Axel Walther, George Davey Smith, Sarah J Lewis, Caroline L Relton, Richard M Martin in JAMA

Further information

About Cancer Research UK

  • Cancer Research UK is the world's leading cancer charity dedicated to saving lives through research.
  • Cancer Research UK’s pioneering work into the prevention, diagnosis and treatment of cancer has helped save millions of lives.
  • Cancer Research UK receives no funding from the UK government for its life-saving research. Every step it makes towards beating cancer relies on vital donations from the public.
  • Cancer Research UK has been at the heart of the progress that has already seen survival in the UK double in the last 40 years.
  • Today, 2 in 4 people survive their cancer for at least 10 years. Cancer Research UK's ambition is to accelerate progress so that by 2034, 3 in 4 people will survive their cancer for at least 10 years.Cancer Research UK supports research into all aspects of cancer through the work of over 4,000 scientists, doctors and nurses.
  • Together with its partners and supporters, Cancer Research UK's vision is to bring forward the day when all cancers are cured.

For further information about Cancer Research UK's work or to find out how to support the charity, please call 0300 123 1022 or visit Follow us on Twitter and Facebook.

About the National Institute for Health Research (NIHR)

The National Institute for Health Research (NIHR) is the nation's largest funder of health and care research. The NIHR:

  • Funds, supports and delivers high quality research that benefits the NHS, public health and social care
  • Engages and involves patients, carers and the public in order to improve the reach, quality and impact of research
  • Attracts, trains and supports the best researchers to tackle the complex health and care challenges of the future
  • Invests in world-class infrastructure and a skilled delivery workforce to translate discoveries into improved treatments and services
  • Partners with other public funders, charities and industry to maximise the value of research to patients and the economy

The NIHR was established in 2006 to improve the health and wealth of the nation through research and is funded by the Department of Health and Social Care. In addition to its national role, the NIHR commissions applied health research to benefit the poorest people in low- and middle-income countries, using Official Development Assistance funding.

About the MRC Integrative Epidemiology Unit

The Medical Research Council Integrative Epidemiology Unit at the University of Bristol (IEU) is one of the MRC's flagship University Units. The IEU brings together an innovative collection of research programmes and cross-cutting themes, underpinned by core research activities that will collectively fuel a step-change in causal analysis and their application. The aim of the MRC IEU is to apply the novel causal methods developed in the IEU to key research questions related to causes of bone, cardiometabolic, reproductive, mental and other aspects of ill-health; and to ensure that the results from these studies are appropriately translated into clinical/public health practice and industrial partnerships. A major focus of IEU activities is the integration of omic measures (genomic, epigenomic, transcriptomic and metabolomic) into epidemiological investigations.

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