High Cholesterol = High Cancer Risk?

By Silberner, Joanne | Science News, January 3, 1987 | Go to article overview

High Cholesterol = High Cancer Risk?


Silberner, Joanne, Science News


High Cholesterol = High Cancer Risk?

Some epidemiologic studies haveshown an association between a high-fat diet and subsequent development of cancer, and this along with the heart desease link is why many doctors recommend that people lower their fat and cholesterol intake. But other studies have failed to show the cancer connection, and several have even found a link between low blood cholesterol levels and cancer.

Now, three new studies, two in Europeand one in the United States, have addressed the issue. They will no doubt add to the data base, but they won't necessarily answer the question of what to eat. The European studies strengthen the low-fat diet suggestion: They report an association between high blood cholesterol levels and an increased risk of colorectal cancer. The U.S. work shows no strong relationship between dietary fat and breast cancer.

While the European findings are inagreement with some previous studies, they run counter to others, including the Framingham (Mass.) heart study (SN: 1/24/81, p.55), that link low blood cholesterol levels to a higher incidence of colorectal cancer. In one of the newly reported studies, Sven A. Tornberg and his colleagues at the Karolinska Hospital in Stockholm, Sweden, analyzed data from more than 92,000 people over a 15-year period. Blood levels of cholesterol and cholesterol-laden lipoproteins were measured in the mid-1960s, and subsequent cancer was monitored.

The researchers found a statisticallysignificant correlation between high cholesterol and the development of rectal cancer in men: The cancer risk was 65 percent higher among the group with the top 20 percent of cholesterol levels compared with men in the bottom 20 percent. The data also pointed, although not as strongly, to a direct cancer-cholesterol relationship in men with colon cancer and in women with colon or rectal cancer.

Gerd Alexander Mannes and his colleaguesat the University of Munich in West Germany looked at people with colorectal adenomas, growths that are thought to be precancerous. When they compared blood cholesterol levels in these patients with the results obtained in the examinations of 842 people whose colons were checked for adenomas, they found "a small positive association." After adjusting for age and relative obesity, both of which increase cholesterol levels, the researchers determined that people who had the top 20 percent of cholesterol levels were twice as likely to have adenomas as those in the bottom 20 percent.

The association between high cholesteroland cancer could be an indirect one, both groups suggest in the Dec. …

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