Gene test shows who could benefit from statins to reduce colon cancer risk

April 19, 2010

A genetic test can help determine in which patients cholesterol-lowering statin drugs might have the most benefit in also reducing the risk of colorectal cancer, a new study from researchers at the University of Michigan Comprehensive Cancer Center finds.

The researchers had previously shown that statins - which 25 million people worldwide take each day to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease - can cut risk of by 50 percent. But statins do not appear to work equally well for everyone in reducing either colorectal cancer or cardiovascular disease risk.

The new study, which appears in the May 1 issue of Cancer Prevention Research, found a genetic variant affects how statins control both colorectal cancer and risk.

"Our research is the first step towards personalized prevention. Some people benefit substantially more from statins than others - for both cholesterol lowering and colorectal cancer prevention. Now we have identified a genetic test that can show who's likely to benefit most from this drug," says senior study author Stephen Gruber, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., director of cancer prevention and control at the U-M Comprehensive Cancer Center.

The study was led by Gruber, Steven M. Lipkin, M.D., Ph.D., from Weill Cornell Medical College; Gad Rennert, M.D., Ph.D., from Carmel Medical Center and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel; and Levy Kopelovich, Ph.D., from the National Cancer Institute.

The team looked at 2,138 people in Northern Israel who were diagnosed with colon cancer and 2,049 similar people without colon cancer. All participants were asked about statin use for controlling cholesterol. Statins are not currently used to prevent colorectal cancer.

In addition, the researchers took blood samples from all study participants and analyzed the genes. They found that the gene targeted by statins, HMGCR, is the same gene that predicts the drug's benefit for preventing colorectal cancer. Further, there are two versions of HMGCR - a long version and a short version. The researchers found that statins have more benefit for reducing both colorectal cancer risk and cholesterol in the gene's long version.

"It's the exact same mechanism for lowering cholesterol as it is for lowering colon cancer risk. This is true only for those people who are actually taking statins. The gene test by itself doesn't predict whether you're at an increased risk of ; it predicts only how well statins lower the risk," Gruber says.

The researchers point out that it's easy to know if statins are successfully lowering cholesterol, but their effect on colorectal cancer prevention is not as apparent. That's where a gene test would come in.

"We think we understand the reasons why statins lower the risk of colorectal cancer. It's probably related to the fact that in addition to lowering cholesterol, they also decrease inflammation - and we know inflammation is a very important part of the way in which colon cancers develop. But regardless of whether it's related to cholesterol levels itself or inflammation, it's more important to know who are the right people to use these drugs for," says Gruber, H. Marvin Pollard Professor of Internal Medicine and professor of epidemiology and human genetics at the U-M Medical School and School of Public Health.

More information: Cancer Prevention Research, Vol. 3, No. 5

Related Stories

Recommended for you

An architect gene is involved in the assimilation of breast milk

October 17, 2017
A family of "architect" genes called Hox coordinates the formation of organs and limbs during embryonic life. Geneticists from the University of Geneva (UNIGE) and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne (EPFL), ...

Study identifies genes responsible for diversity of human skin colors

October 12, 2017
Human populations feature a broad palette of skin tones. But until now, few genes have been shown to contribute to normal variation in skin color, and these had primarily been discovered through studies of European populations.

Genes critical for hearing identified

October 12, 2017
Fifty-two previously unidentified genes that are critical for hearing have been found by testing over 3,000 mouse genes. The newly discovered genes will provide insights into the causes of hearing loss in humans, say scientists ...

Team completes atlas of human DNA differences that influence gene expression

October 11, 2017
Researchers funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) have completed a detailed atlas documenting the stretches of human DNA that influence gene expression - a key way in which a person's genome gives rise to an observable ...

Genetic advance for male birth control

October 10, 2017
When it comes to birth control, many males turn to two options: condoms or vasectomies. While the two choices are effective, both methods merely focus on blocking the transportation of sperm.

Researchers uncover new congenital heart disease genes

October 9, 2017
Approximately one in every 100 babies is born with congenital heart disease (CHD), and CHD remains the leading cause of mortality from birth defects. Although advancements in surgery and care have improved rates of survival ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.