April 11, 2006

High cholesterol linked to prostate cancer risk

By Patricia Reaney

LONDON (Reuters) - Men with high cholesterol levels,
particularly if they were detected before the age of 50, may
have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer, Italian
scientists said on Wednesday.

They discovered an association between prostate cancer and
raised cholesterol in a study of more than 2,750 men, published
online by the journal Annals of Oncology.

"We have found a possible relation between high cholesterol
and prostate cancer. It was self-reported by patients," Dr
Francesca Bravi, of the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche
Mario Negri in Milan, said in an interview.

After considering other potential confounding factors,
Bravi and her team said men with prostate cancer in the study
were around 50 percent more likely to have had high cholesterol
levels than men without the disease.

Prostate is one of the most common cancers in men. Each
year 543,000 new cases are reported worldwide and the disease
kills 200,000 mostly older men in developed countries.

High cholesterol levels had been thought before to be
linked to the disease but most of the evidence was in animal
studies. The new research shows a statistically significant
relationship, according to Bravi and her team.

The scientists said the association was stronger for men
whose high cholesterol levels had been diagnosed before they
were 50 and for men over 65, where there was an 80 percent
greater likelihood of high cholesterol levels.

They also found that prostate cancer patients in the study
were 26 percent more likely to have suffered from gallstones,
which are often related to high cholesterol levels.

Dr Cristina Bosetti, a co-author of the study, said
hormones called androgens that play a role in prostate tissue
and cancer are synthesized from cholesterol. Gallstones are
also often composed of cholesterol.

"So, the direct relationship we found between gallstones
and prostate cancer, while it was not statistically
significant, suggests a similar biological mechanism may
explain the link," Bosetti said.

The scientists added that cholesterol-lowering drugs known
as statins may help to lower a man's prostate cancer risk.
Statins have also been shown to help prevent diabetics and
people at high risk of heart disease from suffering a heart
attack or stroke.

But Bravi said further studies are needed to determine
whether statins could reduce the risk of prostate cancer
because current research is limited and inconclusive.