Low Triglyceride Levels May Increase Cancer Risks
What is the problem and what is known about it so far?
People with diabetes are more likely to get heart and blood vessel disease, and diabetes also increases a person’s chances of getting a variety of cancers. Earlier studies have shown complex links between LDL (“bad”) cholesterol levels and cancer risks in people with type 2 diabetes. In these studies, both high and low LDL cholesterol levels were linked to cancer. Triglycerides are a type of blood fat that is related to LDL and HDL (“good”) cholesterol. More research is needed to understand whether high or low triglyceride levels may also be linked to cancer risks.
Why did the researchers do this particular study?
The researchers wanted to find out whether high or low triglyceride levels increase the risk for cancer and, if so, whether cholesterol-lowering medicines might reduce these risks.
Who was studied?
The study included 5,166 type 2 diabetic patients from a Chinese health registry. The participants did not have cancer at the start of the study and were not using cholesterol-lowering statin drugs before the study.
How was the study done?
The researchers looked at participants’ triglyceride levels and followed them for more than 5 years to see which participants got cancer.
What did the researchers find?
Although high triglyceride levels are usually considered bad because they are linked to heart disease, patients who had low triglyceride levels were more than two and a half times more likely to get cancer unless they also used statin drugs during the study. Patients with high triglyceride levels and those who used statins were less likely to get cancer.
What were the limitations of the study?
The researchers only measured triglyercide levels at the start of the study. Some patients’ triglyceride levels might have changed during the follow-up period. Also, the study could look at the effects of statins but not the effect of another type of cholesterol drug called fibrates because too few participants used fibrates. In addition, the researchers used hospital records and a death registry to find out about participants’ cancer events, and some cancer cases might have been missed. Finally, the study participants were all Chinese. Threfore results may not fully apply to other groups.
What are the implications of the study?
In Chinese people with type 2 diabetes, lower triglyceride levels may be linked to a higher chance of getting cancer, but the use of statin drugs appears to eliminate the higher risk. Given that people with type 2 diabetes have a high risk for cancer, this study suggests that statins may be helpful not only to protect against heart disease but also to protect against cancer.
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