June 19 (UPI) -- Radiation therapy has brought new life to millions of cancer survivors, but that treatment comes with great risk, a new study says.
Cancer patients who took statins to lower cholesterol after radiation treatment for the chest, head or neck saw their stroke risk fall by 32 percent, according to a study published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Association.
"Statins decrease cholesterol levels and have anti-inflammatory properties. Multiple studies have revealed the beneficial effects of statin therapy on reducing the risks of vascular disease in a variety of populations," Negar Mousavi, a researcher at McGill University Health Center and study author, said in news release. "Statins are protective in patients with heart disease, previous strokes and with high cholesterol levels."
The researchers examined data for more than 5,700 heart attack and stroke patients age 65 and older who received radiation therapy for chest, head or neck cancer between 2000 and 2011. Most of the patients had cardiovascular disease, and more than 4,000 patients were taking statins at the time.
According to the researchers, over half of all cancer patients receive radiation treatment, which can scar or close up arteries. This can create blockages that cause a heart attack or stroke.
This also contributes to cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death for cancer survivors.
Not only did statin use reduce stroke risk significantly, but the researchers say all overall cardiovascular episodes were decreased by 15 percent. However, they say this reduction was not significant because the study patients were considered high-risk.
The researchers want to further explore statin use after radiation therapy with a larger study group to create guidelines on how to manage vascular disease brought on by radiation treatment.
"Our study demonstrated that statin therapy could be favorable even with the competing risks of cancer and cancer-related mortality in patients who received radiation therapy," Mousavi said. "No other agent is recommended with enough evidence to reduce the risk of vascular events among cancer patients receiving radiation to the head, neck or chest."