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Promise and Progress - Does Low Cholesterol Equal Lower Risk of High-Grade Prostate Cancer?

The Time is Now: 2010-2011

Does Low Cholesterol Equal Lower Risk of High-Grade Prostate Cancer?

Date: November 11, 2010

Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention, November 3, 2009

We knew that low cholesterol was good for the heart, but until recently, we didn’t know it was good for the prostate.  A study of more than 5,000 U.S. men revealed evidence that men with lower cholesterol are less likely than those with higher levels to develop the most aggressive type of prostate cancer.

The findings came from a collaborative study led by Elizabeth A. Platz, Sc.D., M.P.H., co- director of the cancer prevention and control program at the Kimmel Cancer Center.  Platz and collaborators from the Southwest Oncology Group looked back at 5,586 men, 55 and older, who participated in the Prostate Cancer Prevention trial from 1993-1996.  More than 1200 of the men were diagnosed with prostate cancer during the study, and the researchers set out to find differences between those who developed prostate cancer and those who did not.

They found that men with cholesterol levels, at or below the normal range, slashed their risk of developing more aggressive high-grade, prostate cancer by nearly 60 percent.  Cholesterol levels did not seem to impact the whole spectrum of prostate cancer incidence, but rather only this more aggressive form of the disease, a type more likely to grow and spread rapidly.

"Cholesterol may affect cancer cells at a level where it influences key signaling pathways controlling cell survival," says Platz. "Cancer cells use these survival pathways to evade the normal cycle of cell life and death."

Platz cautions that, while the group took into account factors that could bias the results, such as smoking history, weight, and family history of prostate cancer, other things could have affected their results. One example is whether men in the study were taking cholesterol-lowering drugs at the time of the blood collections, a data point the researchers expect to analyze soon.

This is not the first time Platz has observed a connection between cholesterol and prostate cancer.  Her studies published in collaboration with Harvard investigators in 2006 and 2008 linked the use of statins, a type of cholesterol-lowering drug and low cholesterol to a decreased risk of developing aggressive prostate cancer.

While additional research is needed to know for sure, Platz says that targeting cholesterol metabolism may be one route to preventing and treating prostate cancer.

Funding for the study was provided by the National Cancer Institute.

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