Cholesterol medicine trial brings hope to cancer survivors

Professor Steve Nicholls talking with media

Earlier this week, Professor Steve Nicholls and Dr Sean Tan spoke with media about an Australian-first trial to determine if a common cholesterol medication can reduce the risk of heart attacks in melanoma patients treated with immunotherapy. The trial is being led by Monash Health, Monash University, and the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Trials. 

Advanced melanoma used to have an expected survival of less than one year, but now thanks to immunotherapy more than 50% of patients are classified as cured or living with melanoma as a chronic disease, rather than a fatal condition.  

“Immunotherapy stimulates the body’s immune system to kill cancer cells and has been a gamechanger for cancer treatment,” said research lead Dr Sean Tan. 

“Cardiologists discovered with cancer survivors now living longer, they were more at risk of heart attacks once the threat of cancer had passed.”  

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in people who survive cancer, and patients who undergo immunotherapy as part of their treatment are five times more likely suffer a heart attack.  

The SOCRATES trial will investigate whether statins, a common and cheap cholesterol-lowering medication, can reduce the risk of heart attacks in melanoma patients when given immunotherapy.  

Director of the Victorian Heart Hospital and the Victorian Heart Institute Professor Stephen Nicholls said if the trial is a success, doctors will have a way to reduce or even prevent heart disease in patients with melanoma, with a treatment that is cheap, safe and widely available.  

The trial, which is running at Monash Health, Cabrini Hospital, and across Australia, is a unique collaboration between different medical specialties: cardiology, oncology, and dermatology.