Study in mice reveals how high cholesterol helps cancer spread

Cholesterol, which is a fat-like, waxy substance produced in the liver, aids the productionTrusted Source of hormones and essential vitamins in the body. In large quantities, cholesterol builds up in the body to form deposits known as plaques, which block blood vessels. This may result inTrusted Source a heart attack, a stroke, or another related health problem.

Some research implicates high cholesterol levels in some cancers, but scientists do not fully understand the exact mechanism.

However, scientists at the Duke University School of Medicine in Durham, NC, have recently proposed an explanation for this phenomenon.

By studying cholesterol regulation in cancer cells and mice, they suggest that high cholesterol levels may fuel cancer resistance to cell death, which can worsen disease outcomes.

Their findings reveal a previously undiscovered mechanism through which elevated cholesterol levels influence cancer cells in the body.

Lead scientist Dr. Donald McDonnell, Ph.D, a professor of pharmacology and cancer biology, explained to Medical News Today the significance of their results.

He said, “We believe [our work] addresses long standing questions regarding the impact of overnutrition, obesity, and dyslipidemia/hypercholesterolemia on cancer pathobiology.”

“There is an abundance of epidemiological evidence linking hypercholesterolemia to poorer outcomes in [people] with most cancers, [and now] we think we have found why and have defined a completely new way to treat these cancers.”

– Dr. Donald McDonnell, Ph.D.

Dr. Lynne Elmore, Ph.D, senior scientific director of cell biology and preclinical cancer research at the American Cancer Society, also shared this conclusion.

Dr. Elmore explained, “Published data have demonstrated that high cholesterol promotes the growth of estrogen-positive breast and gynecological cancers owing to derivatives of cholesterol that act like estrogen, fueling cancer growth.”

“But in this study,” she added, “the research team observed that cancers that don’t rely on estrogen for growth (estrogen-negative) are still associated with a worse disease by high cholesterol. This strongly suggests that there is at least one other mechanism of cancer action for high cholesterol, which formed the basis for this comprehensive study.”