Statins Repurposed to Slow Proliferation in Metastatic Breast Cancer Cells

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The findings suggest the consideration of long-term use of statins for patients with breast cancer.
The findings suggest the consideration of long-term use of statins for patients with breast cancer.

Statins were shown to slow proliferation in metastatic breast cancer cells but not primary tumor cells, suggesting the long-term use of statins in the adjuvant setting should be considered for patients with breast cancer.1 Statins have been found to reduce mortality in patients with breast cancer, but the mechanism by which statins influence mortality without affecting the growth of the primary tumor has been unclear. The study results were recently published in the British Journal of Cancer.

To elucidate the effect of statins on metastatic cell proliferation, study researchers created several models to mimic breast cancer metastasis. In vitro and ex vivo models were created to mimic breast cancer metastasis to the liver. The in vitro model was a 2-dimensional coculture, and the ex vivo model was a 3-dimensional microphysiological system. Two independent mouse models were created to mimic spontaneous breast cancer metastasis to the lung and liver.

Statins were shown in each model to “directly affect the proliferation of breast cancer cells, specifically at the metastatic site,” the study authors wrote. In the in vitro model, atorvastatin slowed proliferation of mesenchymal but not epithelial breast cancer cells. When dormant breast cancer cells were stimulated in the 3-dimensional ex vivo microphysiological system, atorvastatin inhibited their emergence. In both mouse models, statins slowed proliferation of metastatic cells but not primary tumor cells.

“As statins can block metastatic tumor outgrowth, they should be considered for use as long-term adjuvant drugs to delay clinical emergence and decrease mortality in breast cancer patients,” the study authors concluded.


  1. Beckwitt CH, Clark AM, Ma B, Whaley D, Oltvai ZN, Wells A. Statins attenuate outgrowth of breast cancer metastases. Br J Cancer. 2018;119(9):1094-1105. doi: 10.1038/s41416-018-0267-7

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