Cholesterol And Cancer: Is There A Link

| September 24, 2012

I came across a study recently which suggests that cholesterol can be a cause of cancer. It concerns the action of a gene which transports cholesterol out of cells. If the gene is defective, cholesterol can build up in the cell, and this is believed to reduce the cell’s ability to counteract cancer development and progression. Are you following me so far? If not, don’t worry, because to conclude from the results of this experiment that cholesterol encourages cancer requires quite a leap of imagination, in my opinion. Nevertheless, I note that one of the authors of this study, Hartmut Land, has been quoted as saying “The link between cholesterol is clear”, though he did add that “…it’s premature to say that statins are the answer.”

In a way, this study and the way it’s been interpreted is symptomatic of what is wrong with a lot of lab-based research. Quite often, researchers in this setting are digging about in the minutiae of the inner workings of animal or human cells. This is all good and well and has a place, but such focus on the detail can cause researchers to lose sight of the big picture. What is it we say about some people not being able to see the wood for the trees?

Hartmut Land is right to be circumspect about the role of statins in cancer prevention or treatment. After all, we don’t need to be performing assays in labs to know this, all we have to do is take a look at the voluminous evidence that shows that when people take statins it does not reduce their risk of cancer.

We could go on, of course, and look at the results of other research which suggests that, if anything, cholesterol reduction might have cancer-causing potential. For example, treatment with the cholesterol-reducing drug ezetimibe has been found to increase the risk of dying from cancer. Also, studies have linked low levels of cholesterol with an increased risk of cancer. This sort of evidence does not prove that low cholesterol causes cancer – it may be that these two things are merely associated with each other. The same goes for studies which have found a link between raised levels of cholesterol to heightened risk of cancer.

Earlier this year saw the publication of another cell-based study which implicates cholesterol as a cancer-preventive. I didn’t take too much notice of it because, like the most recent study, it doesn’t tell us much on its own. When making assessments about the impact of any factor on health, it helps to take as wide a view as possible. And the available evidence ask serious questions about the trend for researchers and doctors to drive cholesterol levels to ever-lower levels.

Here’s to a healthy heart

Dr John Briffa
Editor
for The Cholesterol Truth



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Bear in mind we are not addressing anyone’s personal situation and you should rely on this for informational purposes only. Please consult with your own physician before acting on any recommendations contained herein.


References:

1. Smith B, et al. Anticancer Activity of the Cholesterol Exporter ABCA1 Gene. Cell Reports, 2012; DOI: 10.1016/j.celrep.2012.08.011

2. Peto R, et al. Analyses of cancer data from three ezetimibe trials. NEJM 2008;359(13):1357-66

3. Beh CR, et al. A Detour for Yeast Oxysterol Binding Proteins. Journal of Biological Chemistry 2012;287(14):11481

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