High cholesterol may 'fuel' the growth and spread of breast cancer

High cholesterol may actually “fuel” breast cancer growth, BBC News reported.

According to a study published in the journal Science, researchers at Duke University Medical Center found that a common byproduct of cholesterol may foster the growth and spread of cancer cells.  They also argued that taking cholesterol-lowering medications such as statins could actually prevent the spread of deadly diseases like breast cancer.

Previous studies have found that being overweight or obese can increase the body’s production of hormones – such as estrogen – known to fuel the spread of some cancers. The team at Duke found that the body breaks down high cholesterol into the molecule 27HC, which mimics the effects of estrogen in some tissues.

The researchers analyzed a group of mice on high fat diets and found that their levels of 27HC increased substantially, leading to tumors 30 percent larger than those in mice eating a normal diet.  According to BBC News, the tumors were also more likely to spread and grow more quickly when they were injected with 27HC.

Given their findings, the research team concluded that taking statins or switching to a healthier diet may help prevent the spread of breast cancer.

“What we have now found is a molecule - not cholesterol itself, but an abundant metabolite of cholesterol - called 27HC that mimics the hormone estrogen and can independently drive the growth of breast cancer,” said one of the researchers Donald McDonnell.

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