At risk: Bad cholesterol may increase the risk of cancer spreading.
People with common types of cancer could be at increased risk of the deadly disease spreading if they have high levels of "bad" cholesterol, a study has found.
Researchers from the University of Sydney have discovered that elevated LDL, or “bad” cholesterol, which is caused by eating unhealthy foods, is one of the main reasons cancer migrates from the original tumour and invades other parts of the body.
The breakthrough findings, published in the journal Cell Reports, will have “significant implications” for cancer research, says Thomas Grewal, lead author and associate professor at Sydney University’s faculty of pharmacy.
The study found “bad” cholesterol helps integrins – "Velcro-like" molecules that live on the surface of cells – move around the body more freely.
“One of the things that makes cancer so difficult to treat is the fact that it can spread around the body," Associate Professor Grewal said. "In people with cancer, integrins are much more active which means the cancer cells are more likely to grow, move into the blood stream and take root in other tissues.”
But people with increased “good”, or HDL, cholesterol are more likely to keep integrins inside the cells, reducing the ability for cancer to spread.
"Scientists have long known that aggressive cancer cells accumulate bad cholesterol, but this is the first time we have seen how blocking LDL uptake could help stop cancer cells from moving," Associate Professor Grewal said.
He said while the research did not focus on one particular type of cancer, there is evidence that links high cholesterol to breast, prostate and liver cancer – all of which have been associated with obesity, sedentary lifestyles and diets high in saturated fats.
More research was needed to determine if statins and other cholesterol-inhibiting drugs can be used to block cancer cells because it was "impossible" to remove cholesterol from the body entirely, he said.
"People with a family history of high cholesterol, consume excessive alcohol and eat unhealthy Western diets should be aware that dangerous LDL levels could contribute to the way cancer develops," AssociateProfessor Grewal said.
Last year the Bureau of Statistics found one in three Australian adults – or 5.6 million people – had high cholesterol, but nine out of ten were unaware they had the condition.