Italian Researchers say they have found what they believe to be the first direct link between high cholesterol levels and prostate cancer.
They apparently discovered an association between prostate cancer and raised cholesterol in a study of more than 2,750 men.
They say men with high cholesterol levels, particularly if they were detected before the age of 50, may have an increased risk of developing prostate cancer.
Such an association has been suggested before but has been limited to evidence from animal studies.
This new study, shows a statistically significant direct relationship between the two conditions.
Lead author Dr. Francesca Bravi, an epidemiologist from the Istituto di Ricerche Farmacologiche Mario Negri in Milan, has said the relationship between high cholesterol and prostate cancer was self-reported by patients.
The research team worked on data from a case-control study carried out in four Italian areas between 1991 and 2002, involving 1,294 men under age 75 with prostate cancer and 1,451 matched controls admitted to the same hospitals with acute non-cancerous conditions.
All cases and controls were interviewed in hospital by trained interviewers using wide-ranging structured questionnaires.
These included a problem-oriented section on patients' medical history covering about 10 non-cancerous conditions, including high cholesterol and gallstones.
Bravi and her team say that even after other factors were considered, men with prostate cancer in the study were around 50 percent more likely to have had high cholesterol levels than men without the disease.
Prostate cancer is one of the most common cancers in men, and each year 543,000 new cases are reported worldwide.
The disease kills 200,000 mostly older men in developed countries.
They also found that prostate cancer patients in the study were 26 percent more likely to have suffered from gallstones, which are often related to high cholesterol levels.
Dr. Cristina Bosetti, a co-author of the study, said hormones called androgens that play a role in prostate tissue and cancer are synthesised from cholesterol; gallstones are apparently often composed of cholesterol.
She says the direct relationship found between gallstones and prostate cancer, while it was not statistically significant, suggests a similar biological mechanism may explain the link.
The scientists suggest that cholesterol-lowering drugs known as statins may help to lower a man's prostate cancer risk.
Statins have also been shown to help prevent diabetics and people at high risk of heart disease from suffering a heart attack or stroke.
Dr. Bravi says further studies are needed to determine whether statins reduce the risk of prostate cancer because current research is limited and inconclusive.
The study is published online by the journal Annals of Oncology.