Low “Good” Cholesterol May Signal Cancer

Cancer May Lower HDL  Cholesterol, Study Finds

Cancer may lower good, HDL cholesterol and low total cholesterol may be a sign of undiagnosed cancer, a long-running study following nearly thirty thousand men for almost 20 years has discovered.   A related study suggests that lowering total cholesterol may help men reduce risk of high-grade prostate cancer.

A National Cancer Institute scientist says that one of a pair of studies in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, lays to rest the decades-long concern that lower total cholesterol may lead to cancer.

Demetrius Albanes, M.D., a senior investigator at NCI, said early studies suggested that low cholesterol could increase the risk of certain types of cancer.

“Our study affirms that lower total cholesterol may be caused by undiagnosed cancer. In terms of public health message, we found that higher levels of ‘good cholesterol’ (HDL) seem to be protective for all cancers, which is in line with recommendations for cardiovascular health,” said Albanes.

The researchers observed 29,093 men from the Alpha-Tocopheral, Beta-Carotene Cancer Prevention Study cohort for 18 years, making it the largest and longest study of its kind. In that follow-up period, they noted 7,545 cancer cases. Low total cholesterol blood levels were associated with an 18 percent higher risk of cancer overall, similar to the increases seen in previous studies, but this risk disappeared when the researchers excluded cases that occurred in the early years after the original blood draw.

This finding suggests that the low total cholesterol levels did not cause cancer, but rather were the result of underlying cancer, said Albanes. Higher levels of HDL cholesterol were associated with a 14 percent decreased risk of cancer even after excluding nine years of early cases.

In an accompanying study that looked specifically at risk for high-grade prostate cancer, Elizabeth Platz, Sc.D., M.P.H., associate professor in the Department of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and co-director of the Cancer Prevention and Control Program at the Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at the Johns Hopkins University, found a link between low cholesterol and decreased risk of high-grade prostate cancer among 5,586 men older than 55 years.

Specifically, if men had total cholesterol of less than 200 mg/dL they had a 59 percent reduced risk of high-grade prostate cancer, defined as a Gleason score eight to 10. No association was seen for prostate cancer overall or for prostate cancer with a lower Gleason score. Platz said that the study supports another benefit of keeping cholesterol low among men in this age group.

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Edited by J. Strax from information provided by AACR.