New marketing stream for statin drugs: Study finds fatty western diet stimulates prostate cancer, but statins could control it… or you could just eat better

How big of a role does your diet play in your cancer risk levels? In the case of prostate cancer for Western men, it may be much larger than you think. This is according to new studies from researchers at Harvard Medical School (HMS) as well as the Cancer Center at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, which offer new insight into the link between cancer metastasis and the typical high-fat Western diet.

Prostate cancer, in the eyes of scientists, is a “silent killer” — but in a rather unconventional way. It is often referred to by experts as “indolent,” which is to say that it is so slow-growing and mostly self-contained that many men who are affected by it tend to die with it, rather than because of it. However, that’s not always the case with men who have prostate cancer, as a small percentage whose tumors metastasize suffer fatal consequences.

Researchers have now said that it’s possible to “switch off” the mechanism that causes metastasis in the first place, thereby preventing any serious consequences. By performing experiments on mice, the researchers were able to figure out a method to not only prevent tumors from growing, but also shrink them dramatically. Initially, they were able to do this through drug therapy, using something called “fatostatin,” which worked to block the prostate cancer’s production of fat — a process referred to as “lipogenesis.”

According to a report on the work of the researchers, fatostatin is a pre-existing compound that was first discovered some time in 2009. It’s currently being investigated for its potential use in the treatment of obesity, and the researchers used it to conduct tests on lab mice.

Dr. Pier Pandolfi, a professor of pathology at HMS and a senior author of the first study, underlined the importance of acting on prostate cancer right where it’s known to start. “The progression of cancer to the metastatic stage represents a pivotal event that influences patient outcomes and the therapeutic options available to patients,” he explained. “Our data provide a strong genetic foundation for the mechanisms underlying metastatic progression, and we also demonstrated how environmental factors can boost these mechanisms to promote progression from primary to advanced metastatic cancer.”

As the researchers investigated the progression of tumors, they found what they later referred to simply as the lipogenic — or fat production — switch. “The implication is, if there’s a switch, maybe there’s a drug with which we can block this switch and maybe we can prevent metastasis or even cure metastatic prostate cancer,” said Dr. Pandolfi.

And while fatostatin worked fairly well, as it successfully “blocked the lipogenesis fantastically,” the researchers also pointed out that there are other ways to prevent fat production in patient tumors. As the saying that goes “prevention is better than cure.” So the researchers conducted further experiments until they found out that the largely vegetable-based diet that mice were given played the key role that they were looking for.

In subsequent experiments, the researcher found that increasing the levels of saturated fats in the diet of mice caused them to develop aggressive and metastatic tumors. In short, having a typical high-fat Western diet was basically a huge environmental factor that could lead to a worsened level of prostate cancer.

All of this now gives the researchers a definitive answer as to how one can better treat prostate cancer. Sure, there is a pre-existing drug that can be used for treatment. But more importantly, fixing one’s diet could serve as a more effective alternative in preventing prostate cancer from going into life-threatening levels. Dr. Pandolfi notes, “The data are tremendously actionable, and they surely will convince you to change your lifestyle.”

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