Globally, health authorities have been looking for a way to curb the growing obesity epidemic. More than 1.4 billion adults around the world overweight, putting them at risk for heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, and cancer. But while the three former complications almost go together, it’s always seemed like cancer was the odd one out. Now, a new study shows how it relates, finding that the spread of cancer, known as metastasis, progresses with the help of so-called “bad” cholesterol.
With only about a third of blood cholesterol being carried by high-density lipoprotein (HDL, or “good” cholesterol), the rest is carried by low-density lipoprotein (LDL, or “bad” cholesterol), according to the American Heart Association. It’s the bad cholesterol that builds up along arterial walls, blocks blood passages to the heart and brain, and leads to narrower arteries. Thus, putting a person at risk for heart attacks and strokes. But researchers from the University of Sydney found that cancer cells can attach to LDL and move further throughout the body.
The attachment occurs with the help of an adhesive protein, known as an integrin, which is present on almost all cells in the body, including cancer cells. These integrins attach to LDL as they pass by the tumor, and piggyback, essentially, to other parts of the body, where they can begin to grow into a separate tumor. “In people with cancer, integrins are much more active, which means the cancer cells are more likely to grow, move into the blood stream, and take root in other tissues,” lead author Thomas Grewal, associate professor at the university’s faculty of pharmacy, told The Sydney Morning Herald.
Although integrin inhibitors had already been developed, they were found unsuitable for use with cancer patients, according to Medical News Today, partly because the way LDL carried cancer cells wasn’t fully understood. But rethinking those drugs might not even be necessary, as the results of the study also showed how higher levels of “good” cholesterol relegated integrins to the inside of cells. While this could help them in finding a treatment for cancer patients, the researchers said that the best bet for anyone is to learn how to properly manage their cholesterol.
“People with a family history of high cholesterol, consume excessive alcohol, and eat unhealthy Western diets should be aware that dangerous LDL levels could contribute to the way cancer develops,” Grewal told The Sydney Morning Herald. Learning to manipulate cholesterol is key to avoiding a number of cholesterol related cancers, including breast, prostate, and liver. Adults can do this by not only eating healthier but also by being more physically active. The Department of Health & Human Services recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity every week, with additional time spent two days a week performing strength training exercises that target every muscle group.
Source: Reverter M, Rentero C, Enrich C, et al. Cholesterol Regulates Syntaxin 6 Trafficking at trans-Golgi Network Endosomal Boundaries. Cell Reports. 2014.