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Statins Found to Reduce Cancers After Heart Transplants

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A study by physicians and medical researchers at University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland indicates heart transplant patients taking statins — drugs used to lower cholesterol — reduced their risk of getting cancer, and were associated with overall survival independent of their cholesterol levels. The findings were reported yesterday at a meeting of the European Society of Cardiology in Belgrade, Serbia.

The team led by Zurich physician Frank Enseleit notes that cancer is a leading cause of death well after a heart transplant, with skin cancer being most common. However, solid organ cancers including colorectal and prostate cancer, and lymphoma can also occur. The increased rate of cancer in heart transplant recipients is believed to be related to immune suppression in the patient.

The study covered all 255 heart transplant patients at University Hospital Zurich between 1985 and 2007, who were still alive after the first year. Follow-up examinations of the patients showed 42 percent were diagnosed with cancer. The researchers found statins reduced the risk of cancer by 65 percent, a statistically significant difference.

The beneficial effects of statins with heart transplant patients were found to continue well after the first year. Eight years after the transplant, 13 percent of the patients receiving statins were found with cancer compared to 34 percent who did not receive statins. The effects continued after 10 years (18% with statins, 39% without) and 12 years (22% with statins and 42% without).

The researchers also found statin use associated with improved cancer-free and overall survival. A statistical regression model testing cancer-free survival in patients, with or without statin therapy and cholesterol levels as variables, indicated heart transplant patients at any cholesterol level benefited from taking statins.

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