Serum cholesterol and cancer mortality in the seven countries study

Ancel Keys, Christ Aravanis, Henry Blackburn, Ratko Buzina, A. S. Dontas, Flaminio Fidanza, Martti J. Karvonen, Alessandro Menotti, S. Nedeljkovič, Sven Punsar, Hironori Toshima

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In the Seven Countries Study, carried out in Finland, Greece, Italy, Japan, The Netherlands, the United States, and Yugoslavia, among 11,325 "healthy" men aged 40-59 years in 15 years, there were 594 cancer deaths. Among 477 cancer deaths five years after cholesterol measurement, there was a significant excess of lung cancer deaths in the bottom 20% of the cholesterol distributions in the populations. Age, blood pressure, smoking habits, occupation, and relative body weight did not help explain this. A U-shaped relationship between cancer and cholesterol was not seen in any population. Trend analysis with various cutting points indicated increasing risk of lung cancer death at cholesterol levels under 170 mg/dl. The 45 men dead from cancer in the first two years had lower cholesterol levels than their compatriots who died from cancer later but they did not differ in relative weight or fatness. In contrast to relationships for individuals within populations, the highest cancer death rates were in northern Europe, where the general level of cholesterol was also highest. Other characteristics of the populations-age, relative weight, smoking habits, blood pressure, physical activity, and vitamin A and ascorbic acid in the diet-did not help in the attempt to understand the regional differences in cancer mortality. There is no evidence that any of the observed cancer-serum cholesterol relationships among or within the populations involve an effect of serum cholesterol concentration on oncogenesls or cancer mortality but the possibility of such an effect cannot be denied.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)870-883
Number of pages14
JournalAmerican journal of epidemiology
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1985

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Many persons and organizations made the Seven Countries Study possible; the major sources of funding are shown in references 9-11. The authors of the present study are indebted to their late colleagues who directed the Seven Countries Study in their areas: F. S. P. van Buchem, Haarlem, The Netherlands; Noboru Kimura, Kurume, Japan; Henry Longstreet Taylor, Minneapolis, MN. Ascertainment of vital status was aided by Adrian Corcondilas, Athens, Greece; B. S. Djordjevie, Belgrade, Yugoslavia; Daan Kromhout, Leiden, The Netherlands; and Ivan Mohacek, Zagreb, Yugoslavia. Data processing was aided by Julian D'Andrea, Rose Hilk, Margaret Keys, and John Vi-landre in Minneapolis; Susanna Conti in Rome, Italy; and Dan Garside in Chicago. Some costs of analysis were defrayed by a special grant to Dr. Keys from the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.


  • Cholesterol
  • Mortality
  • Neoplasms


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