High cholesterol fuels spread of breast cancer

Nov. 29, 2013 @ 11:12 AM

Duke Cancer Institute researchers have used mouse models and tumor cells to find that a byproduct of cholesterol fuels the growth and spread of the most common types of breast cancers, according to a Duke Medicine announcement.

Researchers also found that anti-cholesterol drugs such as statins seem to diminish the effect.

The study explains the link between high cholesterol and breast cancer, especially in post-menopausal women, and suggests that dietary changes or therapies to reduce cholesterol may also offer a simple, accessible way to reduce breast cancer risk. 

"A lot of studies have shown a connection between obesity and breast cancer, and specifically that elevated cholesterol is associated with breast cancer risk, but no mechanism has been identified,” said senior author Donald McDonnell, chair of the Duke Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology, in a statement. “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.”

The hormone estrogen feeds an estimated 75 percent of all breast cancers. In a key earlier finding from McDonnell’s lab, researchers determined that 27-hydroxycholesterol – or 27HC – behaved similarly to estrogen in animals, according to the release.
The next steps for research include clinical studies, as well as studies to determine if 27HC plays a role in other cancers, McDonnell said.