Cholesterol, Cancer, and the Drug Class that May Be Key

Hight cholesterol was found to be tied to a lower risk of death in patients with cancer
Hight cholesterol was found to be tied to a lower risk of death in patients with cancer

Research presented at Frontiers in CardioVascular Biology (FCVB) 2016 shows that a diagnosis of high cholesterol was associated with lower mortality and improved survival in four common cancers: lung, breast, prostate, and bowel.

Previously, an association between high cholesterol and breast cancer was established by study authors from the Aston Medical School, Birmingham, UK. Animal studies had shown that treating high cholesterol with statins could lower the risk of breast cancer. For the current study, researchers investigated whether there was any effect of high cholesterol on mortality among cancer patients. 

Data for patients admitted to UK hospitals between January 1, 2000–March 31, 2013 with the listed cancers were obtained from the  Algorithm for Comorbidities, Associations, Length of stay and Mortality (ACALM) clinical database, which also provided data on comorbidities such as high cholesterol; mortality data was obtained from the Office of National Statistics. 

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Of the 929,552 patients, 7,997 had lung cancer, 5,481 had breast cancer, 4,629 had prostate cancer, and 4,570 had bowel cancer. The researchers found that patients with cancer had a lower risk of death if they had high cholesterol vs if they did not. Specifically, having a diagnosis of high cholesterol was linked to a 22% lower risk of death in patients with lung cancer, 43% lower risk in breast cancer, 47% lower risk in prostate cancer, and 30% lower risk in bowel cancer.

Study authors speculate that the reduced mortality risk may be due to the use of statins. Senior author of the ACALM Study Unit, Dr. Rahul Potluri, stated, "Statins have some of the best mortality evidence amongst all cardiovascular medications and statin use in patients with a diagnosis of high cholesterol is possibly the main reason that this diagnosis appears to be protective against death in patients with lung, breast, prostate and bowel cancer."

Overall, findings from the study support the need for a clinical study evaluating the possible protective effect of statins and other common cardiovascular medications (eg, aspirin, antihypertensives) in cancer patients. Dr Potluri concluded: "Patients with cancer who are at high risk or have established cardiovascular disease should be given statins as per current guidelines. I don't think at the moment we can give statins for cancer per se. But this could change if there was a positive result in the clinical trial."

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