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Higher HDL Cholesterol May Cut Colon Cancer Risk

Study Suggests HDL Levels May Be a Useful Indicator of the Risk of Colon Cancer
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

March 8, 2011 -- Higher levels of HDL “good” cholesterol just may protect against colon cancer, findings from a large European study suggest.

More than half a million people living in nine countries in Europe took part in the research, designed to explore the impact of diet on cancer risk.

The analysis revealed that people with the highest blood levels of HDL cholesterol had the lowest risk for developing colon cancer. The association appeared to be independent of other risk factors for the cancer, such as obesity and poor diet.

Each rise in HDL of around 16 mg/dL was associated with a 22% reduction in colon cancer risk, after adjusting for diet, lifestyle, and weight.

“If these findings are confirmed, HDL levels may be a useful indicator of colon cancer risk, along with other risk factors that are already known to us,” study co-researcher Bas Bueno-De-Mesquita, MD, PhD, tells WebMD.

Colon Cancer, HDL, and Metabolic Syndrome

An HDL of less than 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women is considered low by the American Heart Association, while levels at or above 60 mg/dL are considered to convey some protection against heart disease.

Smoking, lack of exercise, and being overweight or obese are all associated with lower HDL levels.

Earlier studies have suggested a higher colon cancer risk in people with metabolic syndrome -- a group of risk factors that increase the risk for heart disease, stroke, and type 2 diabetes.

These risk factors include: having excess belly fat (abdominal obesity); high blood pressure; insulin resistance; high blood triglyceride levels; and HDL levels below 40 mg/dL for men and 50 mg/dL for women.

People with three or more of these risk factors are considered to have metabolic syndrome.

In the newly published study, Bueno-De-Mesquita and colleagues examined the impact of cholesterol and triglycerides on colon cancer risk, independent of other risk factors associated with metabolic syndrome.

The study included 520,000 participants in the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer (EPIC) trial.

Over the course of the study, 1,238 cases of colorectal cancer were identified. An equal number of study participants matched for age, sex, and nationality with the cancer patients were included in the analysis.

Blood samples and dietary questionnaires provided at enrollment were compared to determine if major differences existed between the colorectal cancer patients and people who did not develop the cancer.

Overall, the colorectal cancer patients were heavier and reported being less physically active than non-patients.

Just two blood levels -- HDL and another blood fat known as apolipoprotein A-1 (ApoA) -- were found to be associated with colon cancer risk. But after excluding patients with the shortest follow-up, only higher HDL was associated with a reduction in colon cancer risk.

No association was seen between levels of either blood fat and rectal cancer.

The study is published online in the journal Gut.

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Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL. The HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

Your total cholesterol level is in the Desirable range, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. This may mean that your level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or "good" cholesterol, is too low. It is best to have a high level of "good" HDL and a low level of "bad" LDL because the HDL helps keep your LDL level in check. Ask your doctor for your HDL level. If your HDL is low, increasing your physical activity can increase it, which may help reduce your LDL level.

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Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High, but fortunately your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have other non-measured increases in LDL-like particles that can increase heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is Borderline High. But your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol is High, but your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is near optimal. This could mean you have a high level of high-density lipoprotein, or "good" HDL cholesterol, which protects against heart disease. Or you could have elevated secondary lipids, such as non-HDL particles that increase the risk of heart disease. Your LDL level also could be optimal if you are taking a statin medication. Please check with your doctor to get your complete lipid profile and see if you may need additional treatment. In the meantime, find more information on WebMD's Cholesterol Health Center.

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Borderline High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels!

Your total cholesterol level is High. Your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is High, too. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe medication, such as statins. Following medication, dietary, and exercise instructions should result in improvements.

Your total cholesterol level is High, and your level of "bad" LDL cholesterol is Very High. Working to bring down your total cholesterol decreases your LDL cholesterol level. You can do this by exercising more and eating less food with saturated fats. Check food labels! If you are struggling to bring down your total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol levels, your doctor may prescribe statins or other cholesterol-lowering medications.

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