Study links high cholesterol to increased risk of breast cancer


A new study recently presented at the Frontiers in Cardiovascular Biology meeting in Barcelona, Spain, suggests that women who have high cholesterol may be at higher risk of developing breast cancer.

woman checking breast
Using a statistical model, the researchers estimated that women with high cholesterol were 1.64 times more likely to develop breast cancerthan women with normal cholesterollevels.

The research team, led by Dr. Rahul Potluri of the Algorithm for Comorbidities, Associations, Length of Stay and Mortality (ACALM) Study Unit at Aston University School of Medicine in the UK, says their findings indicate that statins – drugs used to reduce levels of low-density lipoprotein, or “bad” cholesterol, in the blood – could be used to prevent breast cancer.

Past research has indicated a link between obesity – which can cause high cholesterol – and increased risk of breast cancer. A 2013 study reported by Medical News Today found that the obesity status of a woman may influence the rate of breast cancer cell growth and tumor size.

The researchers note that a more recent study suggested that cholesterol levels are what feeds this association. But the team wanted to investigate the link further.

Women with high cholesterol ‘1.64 times more likely to develop breast cancer’

To reach their findings, the investigators analyzed information from the ACALM clinical database between 2000 and 2013, which included more than 1 million patients.

Of the 664,159 women in the database, 22,938 had hyperlipidemia, or high cholesterol, and 9,312 had breast cancer. The team found that 530 of the women who had high cholesterol developed breast cancer.

Using a statistical model, the researchers estimated that women with high cholesterol were 1.64 times more likely to develop breast cancer than women with normal cholesterol levels.

The researchers say although their findings are purely observational at this point, they could have important long-term implications for women with high cholesterol.

Dr. Potluri says:

“We found a significant association between having high cholesterol and developing breast cancer that needs to be explored in more depth.

Caution is needed when interpreting our results because while we had a large study population, our analysis was retrospective and observational with inherent limitations. That said, the findings are exciting and further research in this field may have a big impact on patients several years down the line.”

According to the American Cancer Society, breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women in the US. This year alone, approximately 232,670 American women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer.

The researchers point out that if their findings are validated through further research, they would like to see whether reducing cholesterol with statins could also lower the risk of breast cancer.

“Statins are cheap, widely available and relatively safe,” says Dr. Potluri. “We are potentially heading towards a clinical trial in 10-15 years to test the effect of statins on the incidence of breast cancer. If such a trial is successful, statins may have a role in the prevention of breast cancer especially in high risk groups, such as women with high cholesterol.”

Medical News Today recently reported on a study by researchers from University College London in the UK, which revealed thedevelopment of a simple blood test that could predict how likely a woman is to develop breast cancer.

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