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Could cholesterol lowering drugs thwart breast cancer?

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Cholesterol lowering drugs for preventing breast cancer

Researchers have found a potential new risk for breast cancer that women can fortunately control. According to the new finding, high cholesterol appears to increase a woman's chance of developing breast cancer according to an observational study of 1 million patients.

Cholesterol and breast cancer linked, not proven

Over a period 14 years women in the UK were found to have a "significantly" higher chance of developing cancer of the breast that researchers say could be prevented with statins - cholesterol lowering drugs.

The study finding is preliminary but follows a previous study in mice that high cholesterol, associated with obesity, could be a driving factor for breast cancer development.

"Our preliminary study suggests that women with high cholesterol in their blood may be at greater risk of getting breast cancer. It raises the possibility of preventing breast cancer with statins, which lower cholesterol, but as this is a primitive study, significant time and research is needed before this idea can be tested," said Dr Rahul Potluri, lead author of the study in a press release.

How could high cholesterol lead to breast cancer?

Researchers aren't sure why high cholesterol is linked to breast cancer. Inflammation is associated with increased risk of a variety of cancers and could possibly play a role. Statins also play a role in reducing inflammation as does diet.

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A study published in the Nov. 29, 2013, edition of the journal Science and reported by EmaxHealth found cholesterol by-products act like estrogen to fuel the spread of breast cancer, which might also help explain the association.

Are statins the next breast cancer prevention?

Controlling risk factors for breast cancer is important given statistics from the American Cancer Society showing the disease is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women in the U.S.

A recent article published by BioMed Central estimates there are one million cases of breast cancer diagnosed each year.

Researchers plan to study statins for breast cancer prevention, but it won't be anytime soon. "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,” Potluri said in a press release.

Other ways to prevent the disease and to reduce the chances of recurrence include

  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Restricting calories
  • Drinking less alcohol
  • Consuming more omega-3 fatty acids found in the Mediterranean diet
  • Remaining physically active throughout life

The newest study builds on past suggestions that statins could be explored as a means for preventing breast cancer that Potluri says are “relatively safe” and inexpensive. Perhaps cholesterol lowering drugs will someday be added to the growing list of breast cancer preventive strategies but more studies need to be done to suggest the drugs can definitely lower risk of the disease.


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