High cholesterol helps fuel spread of breast cancer, study finds

The findings of a new study suggest that measures taken to control high cholesterol, like using statins, could help reduce the risk and consequent spread of breast cancer.
Posted By Ananth Baliga  |  Dec. 2, 2013 at 1:38 PM
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Dec. 2 (UPI) -- A byproduct of cholesterol has been found by researchers to fuel the growth and spread of many kinds of breast cancer, much like estrogen.

Results of the preliminary study, which relies on mice models and tumor cells, appears to explain a previously observed link between between high cholesterol and breast cancer, especially in post-menopausal women.

Researchers determined that 27-hydroxycholesterol, a byproduct of cholesterol, acted like the human hormone estrogen and facilitated the growth of the cancer. This is significant considering estrogen is known to be driver of nearly 75 percent of all breast tumors.

“Human breast tumors, because they express this enzyme to make 27HC, are making an estrogen-like molecule that can promote the growth of the tumor. In essence, the tumors have developed a mechanism to use a different source of fuel," said senior author Donald McDonnell, of Duke University.

Using mouse models, the researchers were able to show the direct involvement of 27HC in breast tumor growth, compounding the problem by also accelerating its spread to other organs. They also noted an abundance of the enzyme in tumors that were deemed to be aggressive.

McDonnell said the findings suggest that steps taken to control obesity and the use of cholesterol-lowering statins may delay or prevent the the spread of such cancers.

The findings were published in the journal Science on Nov. 29.

[Duke Cancer Institute]

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