Higher cholesterol levels may be desirable in patients with kidney cancer

June 16, 2014

Many people are advised to lower their cholesterol levels and therefore the level of fats in their blood to reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease. Patients with kidney cancer, however, may be better advised to maintain higher cholesterol levels. In this group, higher levels may promote a longer life expectancy. That is a core finding of a recent study carried out by researchers at the Medical University of Vienna and published online in the British Journal of Urology. The retrospective study was able to demonstrate that cholesterol can act as a bio-marker in renal cancer.

“Having a higher cholesterol level would be desirable in this case. Low cholesterol levels are a bad sign for these patients,” says co-author Tobias Klatte, MD. The tumor in the kidney scavenges the cholesterol, feeding itself with it and continuing to grow. This is what accounts for the low levels in the blood. Says Klatte: “The aim is therefore to permanently cut off this supply. This might enable us to starve the tumor.”

This discovery does not mean that patients' cholesterol level should be artificially raised; instead, the aim is to find a way to starve the tumor of cholesterol and therefore of fats in the blood and possibly stop it in its tracks. At the same time, affected patients could be treated in the future with new, supportive therapies to counteract the loss of cholesterol.

The study investigated data from 876 patients with renal cell carcinoma before they started treatment. Researchers observed the group over a period of 52 months. Lower cholesterol was associated with advanced tumor stages and a higher degree of metastasis of the cancer. Patients with a higher cholesterol level had a 43% lower risk of dying of kidney cancer than patients with low levels. Read the study abstract.

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