Jewish World Review Nov. 16, 2001 / 1 Kislev, 5762

Cholesterol-lowering drugs reduce risk of heart attack

By Robert A. Wascher, M.D., F.A.C.S. -- Over the past 2-3 years, there has been growing evidence that the class of cholesterol-lowering drugs known as "statins" may substantially reduce the risk of heart attacks and strokes.

As reported by the BBC, a British study of 20,000 high risk volunteers has shown that statin drugs can reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by approximately one third. The protective effects of these drugs did not appear to vary with the age, sex or even the cholesterol levels of the volunteers taking statins.

Perhaps most striking was the finding that even volunteers with normal blood cholesterol levels also experienced a reduced risk of heart attack and stroke. Volunteers received either 40 mg of simvastatin per day or a placebo tablet, and were followed for an average of more than five years.

The Oxford University study's authors also found that, contrary to previous studies, vitamins A, C and E did not appear to reduce the risk of heart disease. These findings add to the growing evidence that drugs in the statin class may have a powerful effect on reducing the incidence of stroke and heart disease, and that this effect may be independent of the drugs' direct effects on cholesterol levels.

Additional large multicenter trials are needed to confirm these findings, but the implications of this Oxford University study on the effects of the statins on the number one cause of death in the USA and the UK are potentially staggering.


The current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine reports on an interesting study of breast cancer patients in Europe. Radiation therapy to is usually given to patients who elect to preserve their breast following the surgical removal of a breast cancer tumor.

In this multicenter study, over 5,000 patients with early breast cancer (stages I or II) were divided into two groups. One group received the standard radiation therapy dose, and the other group received the standard radiation treatment plus an additional dose of radiation to the affected breast. After a median follow-up period of 5 years, the patients receiving the standard radiation treatment dose had a 7.3% rate of local recurrence while the group treated with the enhanced radiation therapy dose had a 4.3% rate of recurrence in the affected breast.

This result represents a 40% reduction in the incidence of recurrent cancer in the affected breast with the addition of supplemental radiotherapy. It should be noted that, at least in the 41 to 50 year old age group, no impact on survival was seen between the two treatment groups during the somewhat limited 5 year follow-up period.

However, these results provide impressive evidence that an enhanced radiation therapy protocol may further drive down the risk of locally recurrent breast cancer in patients with early stage disease, and who undergo breast preserving treatment.


Also from the BBC, researchers from Canada's McMaster University recently reported that the areas of the brain involved in personality, moral judgments, and task planning appear to be more densely packed with nerve cells in women as compared to men.

However, while the 15% increase noted in the density of brain cells in the frontal lobes of women is intriguing, it may not actually translate into gender-specific differences in the functions of these areas of higher cognition.

On the average, the brain volumes of women are less than those of men, and women appear to lose brain cells in these same regions more quickly than men with advancing age. Indeed, among the elderly, there appear to be no differences between the sexes in the density of brain cells in the frontal lobes.

On the surface, though, these findings may stimulate further debate regarding possible differences in how men and women view issues with respect to moral and social implications. The more rapid loss of frontal lobe brain cells in women as they age may also have some relevance to the observation that Alzheimer's disease occurs more commonly in women than in men.

JWR contributor Dr. Robert A. Wascher is a senior research fellow in molecular & surgical oncology at the John Wayne Cancer Institute in Santa Monica, CA. Comment by clicking here.


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© 2001, Dr. Robert A. Wascher