Low cholesterol increases cancer risk

Part 3: Other cancers, and What is a dangerously low cholesterol level?

Other cancers linked to low cholesterol levels include:

  • squamous cell and small cell lung cancers,[1]
  • liver cancer,[2]
  • multiple myeloma,[3]
  • adrenal cancer,[4]
  • blood cancers including lymphoma, acute leukaemia, chronic myeloid leukaemia, chronic myelomonocytic leukaemia, policytemia vera, myeloma, chronic lymphoid leukaemia,[5]
  • hairy cell leukemia,[6]
  • brain cancers,[7]
  • and gastrointestinal cancers.[8]

So what is a dangerously low cholesterol level? Well, it's almost certainly higher than you think.

Scientists at the Department of Clinical and Experimental Medicine, University of Padua, Italy, analysed cancer deaths in 3282 elderly men and women aged 65 years or over taking part in the 12-year CASTEL (CArdiovascular STudy in the ELderly).[9] The study's analysis showed clearly an increase in cancers in people 'with very low cholesterol'.

'Very low' was defined as a level below 178 mg/dL (4.63 mmol/L). This level is similar to that found in a study of middle-aged men published four years earlier in which 'Serum cholesterol concentrations below 185mg/dL [4.8 mmol/L] were associated with the highest all cause mortality. . .'[10]

Incidentally, CASTEL showed that men whose Body Mass Index was 22.7 or lower — 22.7 is right in the middle of the 'healthy' weight range — also had an increased cancer risk.


1. Siemianowicz K, Gminski J, Stajszczyk M, et al. Serum total cholesterol and triglycerides levels in patients with lung cancer. Int J Mol Med. 2000; 5: 201-5
2. Okamura T, Kadowaki T, Hayakawa T, et al. What cause of mortality can we predict by cholesterol screening in the Japanese general population? J Intern Med 2003; 253: 169-80.
3. Scolozzi R, Boccafogli A, Salmi R, et al. Hypocholesterolemia in multiple myeloma. Inverse relation to the component M and the clinical stage. Minerva Med 1983; 74: 2359-64.
4. Nakagawa T, Ueyama Y, Nozaki S, et al. Marked hypocholesterolemia in a case with adrenal adenoma-enhanced catabolism of low density lipoprotein (LDL) via the LDL receptors of tumor cells. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 1995; 80: 3391-2.
5. Aixala M, Sarandria CN, Speroni JG. Hypocholesterolemia in hematologic neoplasms. Sangre (Barc) 1997; 42: 7-10.
6. Pandolfino J, Hakimian D, Rademaker AW, Tallman MS. Hypocholesterolemia in hairy cell leukemia: a marker for proliferative activity. Am J Hematol 1997; 55:129-33.
7. Grieb P, Ryba MS, Jagielski J, et al. Serum cholesterol in cerebral malignancies. J Neurooncol 1999; 41:175-80.
8. Tomiki Y, Suda S, Tanaka M, et al. Reduced low-density-lipoprotein cholesterol causing low serum cholesterol levels in gastrointestinal cancer: a case control study. J Exp Clin Cancer Res 2004; 23: 233-40.
9. Mazza A, Casiglia E, Scarpa R, et al. Predictors of cancer mortality in elderly subjects. Eur J Epidemiol 1999; 15: 421-7.
10. Wannamethee G, Shaper AG, Whincup PH, Walker M. Low serum total cholesterol concentrations and mortality in middle aged British men. BMJ 1995;311: 409-13

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Last updated: December 9, 2011