The present study confirms previous data identifying a correlation between tumour-specific HMG-CoAR expression and prognostic favourable clinicopathological parameters in breast cancer. In addition, the analysis of tumour specimens from a consecutive cohort of 498 breast cancer patients with long-term follow-up, revealed that HMG-CoAR expression is an independent predictor of RFS. Nevertheless, these data indicate that this beneficial influence is not extended to ER-negative tumours in which the impact on survival may in fact be the reverse. This assumption is supported by a significant interaction between ER status and HMG-CoAR expression in terms of both RFS and BCSS. The significant impact on prognosis was not only retained, but augmented when adjustment for adjuvant tamoxifen treatment was included in the multivariate analysis. Although this indicates that the prognostic value of HMG-CoAR is independent of tamoxifen treatment, we prefer not to draw any further conclusions, because this cohort, while providing robust prognostic data, was less well suited for evaluating treatment predictive effects. Such analyses should ideally be performed on tumour specimens from randomised trials. In this cohort, patients treated with tamoxifen had a significantly poorer survival compared with untreated subjects, reflecting the fact that they were diagnosed during an era where tamoxifen was primarily given to patients with more advanced disease. Also, as shown in table , a fraction of the ER-negative patients received tamoxifen, but this did not alter the effect of HMG-CoAR on survival in this subgroup.
The number of patients that had received adjuvant chemotherapy was too small (n = 23) to allow for evaluation of how this could have affected the results in the ER-negative group.
Despite a plethora of literature on the anti-neoplastic properties of statins, epidemiological data about their cancer preventing effect in general and breast cancer in particular are not conclusive [9
]. Although breast cancer is a truly heterogeneous disease, consisting of several molecular subgroups that still need to be further refined in order to optimise treatment protocols, it is reasonable to assume that the mevalonate pathway plays a key role in certain subgroups. As shown in table , our data clearly show diverging associations to clinicopathological parameters in ER-positive and ER-negative tumours, with a strong association between HMG-CoAR expression and lymph node positivity in ER-negative tumours.
Previous studies have demonstrated that ER-negative cell lines are more sensitive to growth inhibition by statins than their ER-positive counterparts [10
]. We are not aware of any studies related to statin response in ER-negative versus ER-positive tumours in vivo
, but ongoing prospective trials will hopefully shed more light on this issue. ER-status alone, however, does not divide tumours into clinically relevant subgroups and additional surrogate markers are needed to select patients that would benefit from statin treatment. It is evident that the enzyme that is targeted by statins, HMG-CoAR, is expressed in breast cancer and that it, in the overall setting, predicts a good prognosis, but probably not in ER-negative tumours. These data suggest that an elevated HMG-CoAR expression may be a relevant surrogate marker of response to statin treatment, both in the adjuvant and chemopreventive setting, in ER-negative tumours.
Given the small number of ER-negative tumours present in this study and the risk of random associations with multiple subgroup analyses, this assumption must, however, be confirmed in prospective trials and in larger numbers of ER-negative tumours. Moreover, further studies are warranted to examine the role of HMG-CoAR as a predictor of statin treatment response in triple negative tumours (ER-negative, PR-negative and HER2-negative). Although HER2 amplification status was not available for the tumours in the present study, no firm conclusions can be drawn. Interestingly, in ER-negative and PR-negative tumours expressing HMG-CoAR (n = 40), a negative/low expression of HER2 (immunohistochemistry 0 to 2) was associated with a significantly shorter RFS (RR = 3.92, 95%CI 1.25 to 12.36, p = 0.02), but not BCSS (data not shown), compared with tumours with high expression of HER2 (immunohistochemistry 3). In contrast, among ER-negative/PR-negative/HMG-CoAR-negative tumours HER2 status had no prognostic impact on either RFS or BCSS (data not shown).
Data on statin use was not available for the patients in this cohort, but it can be assumed that the number of users was negligible during that period of time. In the Malmö Diet and Cancer Study, which was initiated in 1991, the number of statin users at baseline was too small, only 228 of 17,035 female participants, to allow for analyses of tumour-specific HMG-CoAR expression in relation to previous statin use [16
]. Such studies would, however, be of interest, especially with regard to the reported lower incidence of ER-negative tumours among statin-users [10
]. The focus of the current study was to investigate the impact of tumour-specific HMG-CoA reductase expression on disease outcome in primary breast cancer with possible implications to its relevance in a tumour biological, not epidemiological, context. However, given the association between tumour-specific HMG-CoAR expression and ER-positive tumours, which we have now observed in two large breast cancer cohorts, it would be interesting to see whether this association is altered in ER-positive tumours in previous statin users. It can not readily be hypothesised that the use of statins, which inhibit HMG-CoAR expression, would promote the incidence of a tumour phenotype linked to a higher expression of the enzyme. It would also be of interest to examine whether HMG-CoAR expression is affected in ER-negative tumours that still occur among statin users, that is, if the proportion of HMG-CoAR expressing tumours is reduced.