Are Cancer and Cholesterol Risks Related?

Cancer risk increased with history of low LDL cholesterol level

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Chris Galloway, M.D.

(RxWiki News) The relation between low density lipoprotein (LDL) - also known as bad cholesterol - and heart disease has been discussed often in the media, especially the many different effects of the statin class of heart drugs. 

The latest wrinkle in advice about cholesterol lowering medications such as statins shows that apart from the heart disease angle, there may be an underlying correlation between LDL level and later risk for cancer, although the exact relation it is not clear.

"Get an opinion from your doctor about cholesterol-lowering therapy."

Researchers from Tuft's Medical Center followed several hundred patients to look at the relation between cholesterol and cancer risk.

They found that while the current dogma is to lower LDL cholesterol, patients with low cholesterol in the past  had a higher rate of cancer later. This was the case even when accounting for various factors like diabetes, age, gender, tobacco use and obesity.

Paul Michael Lavigne, M.D., a resident at Tufts Medical Center presented his findings at the American College of Cardiology's Annual Scientific Session on March 25th.

Previous studies have suggested the opposite correlation, and some cardiologists believe that cancer risk is lowered due to the anti-inflammatory effects of statin drugs, which lower LDL levels.

The study was a case control to compare control patients from prior data obtained in the Framingham Heart Study Offspring Cohort with current cancer patients. The study looked at 201 patients with cancer, contrasted with 402 similar profiles in people from the Framingham study who had never developed cancer.

Low levels of LDL appeared to enhance a patient's risk of cancer, with the findings remaining statistically significant even when controlling for other risk factors, as well as HDL levels.

Dr. Lavigne said conclusions should not yet be drawn from this study, only that the relationship between cholesterol and good health may not be as simple as previously thought. He recommended further study on the topic to separate correlation from causation.

Patients currently on medication to lower their cholesterol should consult with their doctor before changing their health habits.

"There is no evidence to indicate that lowering your cholesterol with a medication in any way predisposes to a risk for cancer," Dr. Lavigne said.

He added, "We suspect there may be some underlying mechanism affecting both cancer and low LDL-C, but we can only say definitively that the relationship between the two exists for many years prior to cancer diagnosis, and therefore underscores the need for further examination.” 

This research is considered preliminary until the results are published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Financial relationships between researchers and any potential vested interests were not made publicly available.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
March 28, 2012
Last Updated:
March 29, 2012