PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — Can a cholesterol drug be used to fight colon cancer?

“Right now, this drug seems to be at the top of the mark for that,” Allegheny General Hospital cancer surgeon Dr. Thomas Julian said.

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Colon cancer is the third most common cancer in the U.S. In a National Cancer Institute study, a cholesterol drug is thought to interfere with a protein colon cancer cells need to divide. It’s being tested to see if it can prevent this disease.

In other research, people who take cholesterol lowering medicines, called statins have less colon cancer and decreased growth of colon polyps or growths in the intestinal wall. Colon polyps can grow into cancer if they aren’t removed during colonoscopy.

But a link between statins and stunted polyps is all those studies can show.

Local doctors are looking for patients for a new study that they hope will prove cause and effect.

“The number of placebo controlled trials are few and far between this day and age,” Dr. Julian acknowledged.

Nearly 2,000 people with early stage colon cancer and not on a statin currently will be randomly assigned to take Crestor, which will be supplied by the drug company, or placebo every day for five years.

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They will be followed with exams, blood work and colonoscopies. Side effects are expected in fewer than 5 percent.

“The patients will be followed for those things, side effects such as nausea, constipation, muscle pain,” Dr. Julian says about some of the common known side effects of statins.

The researchers would like to show that the drug decreases the number of polyps and the development of disease.

“If the trial shows that, what a terrific opportunity we have to take a low risk medication to prevent a cancer which unfortunately affects a rather large population of patients, both male and female, in the United States,” he says.

If the study shows that this particular drug does work, does that mean we should all take it to prevent colon cancer? Unfortunately, this study can’t say that, because it’s looking at people at higher risk than the general population.

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People recently diagnosed with a Stage I or II colon cancer and interested in the study should contact AGH at 412.359.6464. A list of other sites in North America that are participating in the study may be found at the NCI’s Clinical Trials Page.


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NIH: Crestor