Unexplained Cholesterol Level Decreases May Be Symptomatic of Colorectal Cancer

HealthDay News – Long-term use of statins does not appear to reduce the risk of colorectal cancer (CRC), but a patient’s cholesterol levels might affect risk, according to a study published online April 26 in PLOS Medicine.

For the study, researchers compared statin use and cholesterol levels in 22 163 British patients with CRC and 86 538 without the disease.

The results confirmed findings from previous studies that showed a lower risk of CRC in people who take statins. But the risk was not significantly different between patients who kept taking statins and those who stopped taking the drugs. 

Instead, the higher the cholesterol level, the lower the CRC risk for patients, regardless of statin use. The researchers also discovered that an unexplained drop in cholesterol levels 1 year before a cancer diagnosis was linked to an increased risk of cancer in both statin users and nonusers.

“Although the risk of colorectal cancer was lower in statin users vs nonusers, when we compared those who continued statin therapy vs those who discontinued the therapy, such that each group shared the same indication for statin therapy, there was no difference in risk,” lead author Ronac Mamtani, MD, an assistant professor of hematology/oncology at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, said in a university news release. 

“While unexplained decreases in blood total cholesterol should alert physicians to consider colon cancer as 1 potential explanation, future studies are needed to determine the utility of blood cholesterol as a marker for early detection of colon cancer.”


Mamtani R, Lewis JD, Scott FI, et al. Disentangling the association between statins, cholesterol, and colorectal cancer: a nested case-control study. PLoS Med. 2016. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.1002007.