Scientists have solved the mystery of the connection between high cholesterol levels and increased rates of breast cancer metastasis, the spreading of a tumor from one location to another. They found that a byproduct of cholesterol metabolism, a molecule called 27HC, is responsible for influencing immune cells like neutrophils and T cells so that they promote the spread of cancer instead of performing their intended function, targeting and eliminating tumor cells.
In a study with mice models with breast cancer tumors fed a diet high in cholesterol, researchers from the University of Illinois confirmed that cholesterol levels impact breast cancer metastasis. Then, they showed that when treated with statins, drugs that can lower the amount of cholesterol in the body, the rate of tumor metastasis decreased. The same effect was seen when they inhibited the enzyme that produces 27HC.
Researchers are hopeful that this discovery will lead to the development of new drug targets against 27HC that can help reduce the metastatic rate of breast cancers.
"We hope to develop small-molecule drugs to inhibit 27HC," explained study leader Erik Nelson. "In the meantime, there are good cholesterol-lowering drugs available on the market: statins. Cancer patients at risk for high cholesterol might want to talk to their doctors about it."