High cholesterol promotes cancer – medical practice

Cholesterol can protect cancer cells from cell death

Chronically high cholesterol increases the risk of breast cancer and has a negative effect on other cancers. The mechanisms by which breast cancer cells use cholesterol to develop a tolerance to stress, which protects them from cell death, have now been identified.

So far, the question has arisen how exactly a chronically high cholesterol level increases the risk of developing breast cancer. A new research project led by the Duke Cancer Institute has now attempted to find an answer to this question. The experts discovered how breast cancer cells are able to use cholesterol to protect themselves from cell death if they migrate from the original tumor site. The study results were published in the English-language specialist journal “Nature Communications“Published.

Metastasis means stress for cancer cells

Most cancer cells die trying to metastasize because it is a very stressful process for them, reports study author Professor Donald P. McDonnell of Duke University School of Medicine. “The few who don’t die have the ability to get through it Stress to overcome triggered death mechanism of the cell. We found out that cholesterol is a major factor in this ability, ”explains the expert.

Role of estrogen and cholesterol in cancer

The new study builds on previous research by the team on the relationship between high cholesterol and estrogen-positive breast cancer and gynecological cancers. These studies found that cancers fueled by the hormone estrogen benefit from cholesterol derivatives, which act like estrogen and stimulate cancer growth.

However, a paradox emerged in estrogen-negative breast cancer. These cancers aren’t estrogen-dependent, but high cholesterol is still linked to worse illness, suggesting another mechanism might be at work, the team said.

Cancer cells devour cholesterol during stress

In the current study, the effect of cholesterol on cancer cell lines and in mouse models was examined. The researchers found that cancer cells migrate in response to stress cholesterol devour, but most of them die off. However, the surviving cancer cells develop an ability that enables them to withstand what is known as ferroptosis, which normally causes cells to die. The surviving stress-resistant cancer cells then multiply and can easily metastasize, the researchers explain.

Melanomas could benefit from cholesterol

This process appears to be used not only by ER-negative breast cancer cells, but also by other types of tumors, including melanoma. And the identified mechanisms could be addressed through therapies, explain the experts.

“Unraveling this path has revealed new approaches that could be useful in the treatment of advanced diseases. Therapies are currently being developed that inhibit the path we have described. These results make it clear once again why the lowering of cholesterol levels – either through medication or through an altered one nourishment – is a good idea for better health, ”adds study author Professor McDonnell in one Press release from Duke University School of Medicine. (as)

Author and source information

This text complies with the requirements of specialist medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical professionals.


  • Wen Liu, Binita Chakraborty, Rachid Safi, Dmitri Kazmin, Ching-yi Chang, et al.: Dysregulated cholesterol homeostasis results in resistance to ferroptosis increasing tumorigenicity and metastasis in cancer; in: Nature Communications (veröffentlicht 24.08.2021), Nature Communications
  • Duke University School of Medicine: High Cholesterol Fuels Cancer By Fostering Resistance to a Form of Cell Death (veröffentlicht 24.08.2021), Duke University School of Medicine

Important NOTE:
This article is for general guidance only and is not intended to be used for self-diagnosis or self-treatment. He can not substitute a visit at the doctor.


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