Statins Reduce Risk of Cancer in Heart Transplant Recipients

| July 8, 2012 | 0 Comments

In its annual meeting, the Heart Failure Association of the European Society of Cardiology held from May 19-22, 2012, in Belgrade Serbia, a research report cited statins as a credible line of defense against cancer for heart transplant recipients. Statins are immunomodulatory drugs that are most often used to lower lipids in cholesterol.

Statins are highly recommended by cardiologists as a preventive therapy for heart attack and also for patients with coronary artery disease (CAD). Statins are used routinely by cardiologists who detect high cholesterol.  However, statins have proved beneficial against a number of cardio risks.



The most common statins are:

  • Lipitor (atorvastatin)
  • Lescol (fluvastatin)
  • Mevacor (lovastatin)
  • Livalo (pitavastatin)
  • Pravachol (pravastatin)
  • Zocor (simvastatin)
  • Crestor (rosuvastatin)

The conclusion of the Heart Failure Congress report was that statins prevent cancer and reduce deaths from all causes in heart transplant patients. Most transplant centers cite the danger of cancer in heart transplant recipients.  In fact, cancer is the leading cause of death after heart transplantation.  Skin cancer is very common in recipients.  I, myself, have been fighting various forms of skin cancer for about three months.  The most recent breakout necessitated a topical form of chemotherapy that was applied to several areas.  This was the chosen treatment by my surgeon who said I had undergone too much surgery. The cream was very effective but when applied to the lips and nose caused a violent reaction as you can see from the attached photo.  The pain from this therapy was about as painful as any other procedure during my nearly three year recovery fight.

While skin cancer has become a common risk for transplant recipients, the risk of solid organ cancers like colorectal cancer, prostate cancer and lymphoma cancer is high.  Cardiologists believe this propensity is due to a weakened immune system. While at Columbia, I met a fellow who had received a heart four months earlier. He was exhausted.  When he revealed that he was now fighting prostate cancer, my friend dropped his guard and broke down.  It was just too much to bear.

The European Society of Cardiology report was based on results from a study that included 255 heart transplant recipients at the University Hospital, Switzerland, between 1985 and 2007 and who had survived the first year. The purpose of the study (abstract P3606) was to identify the relationship of statins and cancer on heart transplant patients.  The primary endpoint of the study was when the patient contracted cancer.  The secondary endpoint was overall survival.  Here are the most important results.

  • 108 patients contracted cancer (42 percent).
  • Statins reduced the risk of cancer by 65 percent.
  • Eight years after transplantation, cumulative incidence of tumors in patients not receiving statins was 34 percent.
  • The cumulative incidence of patients receiving statins was 13 percent. Not bad.
  • After ten years the incidence rate was 39 percent for non-statin users and 18 percent in statin users.
  • The 12-yeat percentages were 42 percent and 22 percent.

The International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation (ISHLT) now recommend statins for heart transplant recipients to reduce graft atherosclerosius.  Dr. Frank Enseleit, deputy director of heart failure at University Hospital Zurich, states that heart transplant recipients should begin statin therapy six months after transplant.

Stains do not come risk-free. The Mayo Clinic lists the following possible statin side effects.

Muscle pain and damage – The most common statin side effect is muscle pain which manifest itself as pain, a soreness, tiredness or weakness in your muscles. The pain can range from mild discomfort to severe enough to make your daily activities difficult.

Liver damage – Statins can cause the liver to increase its production of enzymes that help digest food, drinks and medications. Rarely, is the increase severe enough to stop taking the drug.

Digestive problems – Statins can cause nausea, gas, diarrhea or constipation.

Rash or flushing – Rash or flushing are common side effects.

Increased blood sugar or type 2 diabetes – Statins can cause the blood sugar (blood glucose) level to increase. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has issued a warning on statin labels regarding blood glucose levels and diabetes.

Neurological side effects – Statins might be linked to memory loss or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease. The FDA warns that some patients have developed memory loss or confusion while taking statins. These side effects reverse once you stop taking the medication.

Do not take statins without a lengthy discussion with your cardiologist. I have already set a meeting with my Albany cardiologist to discuss adding a statin to my medicine list.  Hope this information helps.


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