Although high cholesterol is, no matter what, always a serious health risk, high cholesterol in women may have protective effects against breast cancer.
The researchers reviewed over 14 years of data that consisted of over one million people. The researchers found that women with high cholesterol had a lower risk of developing breast cancer compared to women without high cholesterol.
Further investigation uncovered that taking statins may provide protection against the risk of breast cancer.
Breast cancer is the most common type of cancer among women, and although men and women can develop breast cancer, it is far more predominant among women. Breast cancer occurs when abnormal cell growth occurs in the breast tissue.
Although all cells in the body require cholesterol to function, it is possible to develop high amounts of LDL cholesterol—known as the bad cholesterol—which can increase the risk of a heart-related event. Cholesterol is also required to make vitamin D, compounds that aid in digestion, and hormones.
Senior author of the study Dr. Rahul Potluri explained, “We previously found an association between having high cholesterol and developing breast cancer, so we designed this study to follow up patients longitudinally and address the relationship more robustly.”
Data was pulled for women over the age of 40 who were not diagnosed with high cholesterol or breast cancer at baseline. The researchers also included 16,043 women who were diagnosed with high cholesterol and an age-matched group of the same number of women without high cholesterol for comparison.
After a 14-year follow-up period, the researchers found lower incidences of breast cancer among the women with high cholesterol. Furthermore, women with a diagnosis of high cholesterol at baseline had a reduced risk of death compared to those without.
Although the specifics of how or why breast cancer risk is lower among those with high cholesterol is not fully understood, the researchers believe it has something to do with taking statins, which is a medication aimed at reducing cholesterol. Furthermore, women who have been diagnosed with high cholesterol may adhere to a healthier lifestyle than other women, as they are trying to reduce cholesterol naturally.
Dr. Potluri concluded, “If a diagnosis of high cholesterol leads to lower breast cancer rates this must either relate to something inherent in the condition or affected patients, or more likely, to treatment with widely used cholesterol-lowering interventions such as statins.”
Additional research is required to determine whether it would benefit women with breast cancer to be treated with statins.