Breast Cancer Alert: Ladies, Watch Your Cholesterol

Here's another reason to watch your cholesterol, if you're a woman.  A new study has found that high cholestrol can fuel breast cancer.

Acting almost like an estrogen, according to newswise.com, a byproduct of cholesterol can functions like that hormone and grow and spread the most common types of breast cancers, researchers at the Duke Cancer Institute report.

But statins do appear to reduce the threat.

These days it's very confusing to know whether your cholesterol -- either "good" or "bad" -- is high enough for medication. I'm in this very boat myself.  My cholesterol level (which runs in my family) was very high, even after I lost weight and doubled my exercise.  So I'm on a low dose of a statin and it's helping keep my numbers where they should be.  I'd love to go off it, but when I tried it this summer, my levels shot back up. So looks like I'll be on it for life.

Anyway, "The research for the first time explains the link between high cholesterol and breast cancer, especially in post-menopausal women, and suggests that dietary changes or therapies to reduce cholesterol may also offer a simple, accessible way to reduce breast cancer risk," newswise.com reports.

“A lot of studies have shown a connection between obesity and breast cancer, and specifically that elevated cholesterol is associated with breast cancer risk, but no mechanism has been identified,” the Web site quotes senior author Donald McDonnell, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology at Duke. “What we have now found is a molecule – not cholesterol itself, but an abundant metabolite of cholesterol – that mimics the hormone estrogen and can independently drive the growth of breast cancer.”

Estrogen feeds 75 per cent of breast cancer (I'm in the other 25 per cent -- mine was estrogen negative.) Using mice, researchers at Duke were able to prove that the cholesterol byproduct directly led to cancer growth as well as spread. And the studies were substantiated using human breast tissue.

Scientists noted a direct correlation between the aggressiveness of the tumor and an abundance of the enzyme that makes the cancer-causing molecule. Even more alarming, they also found that the molecule "could be made in other places in the body and transported to the tumor," newswise.com points out.

"The worse the tumors, the more they have of the enzyme,” said lead author Erik Nelson, Ph.D., a post-doctoral associate at Duke. "In essence, the tumors have developed a mechanism to use a different source of fuel," said McDonnell.

What's worse, the use of anti-estrogen drugs like Tamoxifen and aromatase inhibitors didn't seem to help much.

The answer? Maybe take the statin, if you have high cholesterol, says McDonnell.


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