The researchers, from the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri in Milan, admitted the study had to rely on patients reporting details of their own medical conditions. They said the apparent association between high cholesterol and prostate cancer seemed to be a real one.
The researchers examined data on 1,294 men with prostate cancer, and 1,451 men admitted to hospital with non-cancerous conditions. They found men with prostate cancer were around 50% more likely to have had high cholesterol levels. The association was particularly strong among men diagnosed with prostate cancer before the age of 50, and after the age of 65. Both these groups were 80% more likely to report high cholesterol levels than men free from cancer.
The analysis also found prostate cancer patients were 26% more likely to have had gallstones. Thinner men appeared to be particularly vulnerable. Researcher Dr Cristina Bosetti said: "Androgens - hormones that have a role in prostate tissue and cancer - are synthesised from cholesterol, suggesting a possible biological relationship between high cholesterol and prostate cancer. Gallstones are related to high cholesterol levels as well and are often composed of cholesterol.” Investigating the link had so far been limited and inconclusive.
Professor Nick James, a cancer specialist at the University of Birmingham, said it was "entirely plausible" that cholesterol was linked to prostate cancer.
He said: "There is a lot of circumstantial evidence suggesting that diet is a factor in developing prostate cancer. For instance, the disease is more common in northern European countries, where consumption of animals fats is relatively high.
"This research carries a positive message: it suggests that people can do something themselves to reduce the chances of getting a disease which is among the biggest killers of men."
On the other hand, it should be pointed out that prostate cancer rates are significantly lower in Asian countries, where dietary components like sang huang and white button mushrooms have been linked to healthier prostate tissue. Natural prostate supplements containing extracts of these mushrooms (health professionals recommend Prostate Ph) may be indicated for maintaining long-term prostate health.