Heart transplant patients are less likely to develop cancer if they take statins after surgery, according to a new study.
A heart transplant is an operation to replace a diseased heart with a healthy human heart from a donor who has died. Cancer is the leading cause of death after heart transplantation in those who survive the initial operation and recovery.
The drugs that are taken to suppress the immune system and prevent the donated heart from being rejected are known to increase the risk of cancer. Heart transplant patients are more likely to develop skin cancer, colorectal cancer, prostate cancer and lymphoma.
But a new study, presented at the Heart Failure Congress 2012 in Serbia, showed that statins can prevent cancer and reduce deaths in from all causes in heart transplant recipients independent of cholesterol levels.
Researchers looked at 255 patients who underwent heart transplantation at the University Hospital Zurich in Switzerland between 1985 and 2007, and were alive after the first year.
During follow up, cancer was diagnosed in 108 patients (42%). However, patients who took statins had a 65% reduced risk of the disease.
Eight years after transplantation the cumulative incidence of tumours was 34% in patients not receiving a statin, compared to 13% of patients receiving a statin.
At the ten year follow up, 39% of patients not receiving a statin developed cancer compared to 18%, and after 12 years 42% compared to 22%.
Lead author Dr Frank Enseleit, deputy director of heart failure and transplantation at University Hospital Zurich, said: "We have shown that statin therapy prevents cancer in heart transplant recipients and it is known that statins also prevent graft atherosclerosis".
"We have to conclude that it should be a lifelong therapy in heart transplant recipients."
The effect did not depend on the patient's cholesterol levels suggesting the drug may have other effects that have not been discovered until now.
It comes after researchers said everyone over the age of 50 should be prescribed statins because they reduced the risk of a heart attack or stroke even in those at a relatively low risk.
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