Low cholesterol increases cancer risk

Part 2: Studies confirm the cancer link with low cholesterol

Many epidemiological studies have shown consistently that cancer deaths rise in number as blood cholesterol levels fall.

A German study conducted at the Medizinische Universitätsklinik II, Tübingen, investigated blood cholesterol values at the time of diagnosis in patients with Hodgkin's lymphoma and found that they were significantly lower in these patients than in age- and sex-matched people without the disease. They also noted that patients with normal cholesterol values had a five-year survival rate which was two-and-a-half times higher than in patients with low blood cholesterol.[1]

Another study published in 1990 showed that colon cancer was preceded over a 10-year period by a fall in blood cholesterol levels. That doesn't mean the lower cholesterol caused the cancer; there are three possibilities:

  1. that the drop in cholesterol caused the cancers,
  2. that the drop in cholesterol was a result of the cancers
  3. or that the fall in cholesterol and the appearance of cancer at that time was merely a coincidence.

The scientists looked meticulously at these three possibilities and were able to rule two of them out: falling cholesterol they determined was the culprit.[2]

The figures are the interesting aspect of this study because the average level at diagnosis of cancer was 214 mg/dL (5.56 mmol/L), yet doctors are trying still to reduce population levels to below 192 mg/dL (5.0 mmol/L). Interestingly, this study also specifically attributed the cancers to low levels of LDL, which reinforces other evidence that the so-called 'bad' cholesterol is not bad after all.


1. Muller CP, Trilling B, Steinke B. The prognostic significance of total serum cholesterol in patients with Hodgkin's disease. Cancer 1992; 69: 1042-6.

2. Winawer SJ, Flehinger BJ, Buchalter J, et al. Declining Serum Cholesterol Prior to Diagnosis of Colon Cancer. JAMA 1990; 263: 2083-5

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Last updated: December 9, 2011