As with any cancer, prostate cancer affects different people in different ways. My Dad, who died of prostate cancer in his early sixties, was unfortunate in that he had what is known as a "high-grade" version of the disease. It didn't take long from the time of discovery to his death, which is unusual because prostate cancer is so often treatable. But his tumors were fueled by this high-grade, aggressive nature.
New research from Johns Hopkins has shown that if men can lower their cholesterol levels, they are less likely than those with higher levels to develop this high-grade prostate cancer - a form of the disease with a poorer prognosis, according to results of this collaborative study.
In this study of more than 5,000 U.S. men, epidemiologists say they now have evidence that having lower levels of heart-clogging fat may cut a man's risk of this form of cancer by nearly 60 percent.
“For many reasons, we know that it’s good to have a cholesterol level within the normal range,” says Elizabeth Platz, Sc.D., M.P.H. (Johns Hopkins' Kimmel Cancer Center). “Now, we have more evidence that among the benefits of low cholesterol may be a lower risk for potentially deadly prostate cancers.”
For men at prostate cancer age, normal range is defined as less than 200 mg/dL (milligrams per deciliter of blood) of total cholesterol. Platz and her colleagues found similar results in a study first published in 2008, and in 2006, she linked use of cholesterol-lowering statin drugs to lower risk of advanced prostate cancer. For the current study, Platz and her collaborators analyzed data from 5,586 men aged 55 and older enrolled in the Prostate Cancer Prevention Trial from 1993 to 1996. Some 1,251 men were diagnosed with prostate cancer during the study period.
Men with cholesterol levels lower than 200 mg/dL had a 59 percent lower risk of developing high-grade prostate cancers, which tend to grow and spread rapidly. High-grade cancers are identified by a pathological ranking called the Gleason score. Scores at the highest end of the scale, between eight and 10, indicate cancers considered the most worrisome to pathologists who examine samples of the diseased prostate under the microscope.
In Platz’s study, cholesterol levels had no significant effect on the entire spectrum of prostate cancer incidence, only those that were high-grade, she says. Results of the study are expected to be published online Nov. 3 in the journal Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Also in the journal is an accompanying paper from the National Cancer Institute showing that lower cholesterol in men conferred a 15 percent decrease in overall cancer cases.