To function properly, the body needs fat. Fats are a type of lipid and can be found in both animal and plant products. The body can use lipids as a source of energy but also as building blocks for the structure of the body’s cells.
Lipids can be found in all parts of the body, including the bloodstream. When someone has high levels of lipids in the blood, this is called dyslipidaemia. There are two types of dyslipidaemia: hypercholesterolemia (characterised by unusually high LDL levels in the blood) and hypertriglyceridemia (characterised by unusually high triglyceride levels in the blood). Dyslipidaemia increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. If too many lipids build up in the liver, this can cause fatty liver disease(steatosis).
Most survivors do not develop dyslipidaemia. There are a number of things anyone can do to lower your risk of developing dyslipidaemia, such as exercising (more) and eating a healthy diet low in cholesterol and fat.
Am I at higher risk of dyslipidaemia?
Anyone, including people who have never had cancer treatment, may develop dyslipidaemia. However, there are some cancer treatments that may increase the risk of having dyslipidaemia later in life.
The following treatment can increase the risk of dyslipidaemia:
Radiotherapy to the entire body, also known as total body irradiation (TBI)
Stem cell transplantation
You can find out if you have received any of these treatments by looking at your treatment summary. If you do not have a treatment summary or if you have any questions, do contact your treating hospital.
If you experience dyslipidaemia, it does not always mean that this is caused by your cancer treatment. Dyslipidaemia may have other causes, such as being overweight, having diabetes and older age. For more information on overweight and obesity and diabetes, please read: Overweight and obesity, Impaired glucose metabolism and diabetes. If dyslipidaemia is common in your family, this may also increase your risk of having dyslipidemia.
What are the symptoms and signs of dyslipidaemia?
Dyslipidaemia usually does not cause any symptoms. However, it is important to detect it so that treatment can be started to lower the risk of more severe consequences such as a stroke or heart problems. For more information on strokes and heart problems, please read: Stroke, heart problems.
If too many lipids build up in the liver, this can cause fatty liver disease (steatosis). Fatty liver disease usually does not cause any symptoms. For more information on liver problems, please read: Liver problems.
Sometimes hypercholesterolemia can cause xanthomas, which are yellowish deposits of cholesterol. Xanthomas can occur anywhere in the skin, but occur most often around the eyelids, joints (where the bones make contact) and tendons (the connection between bones and muscles).
I am at higher risk of dyslipidaemia. What tests should I have and when?
If you are at higher risk of dyslipidaemia, it is advised to:
Have a blood test (fasting lipid profile) done at least every 5 years, starting no later than the age of 40. It is important to have this test done in the morning, before you have breakfast.
What happens if I have dyslipidaemia?
If you have dyslipidaemia, your general practitioner or follow-up specialist will probably refer you to a specialist. Depending on the cause of dyslipidaemia, you may be referred to an:
Endocrinologist (physician specialised in hormones and metabolism)
Dietician or nutritionist (specialists who advise on eating habits and lifestyle)
The specialist may discuss different treatment options with you such as improving your diet and lifestyle. They may also prescribe you medication to lower your blood lipid level.
You may also be advised to have your weight, blood pressure and blood glucose (sugar) measured regularly. When you have dyslipidaemia, it is important to be aware of other factors that may influence your risk of (future) problems with the heart or blood vessels. For more information on overweight and obesity, high blood pressure or diabetes, please read: Overweight and obesity, hypertension, impaired glucose metabolism and diabetes.
What else can I do?
Knowing that you may be at increased risk of dyslipidaemia can be difficult. Talking to friends and family can be helpful as well as specialist counselling and/or contact with support groups, such as patient organisations. For more information on taking care of your mental health, please read: Mental health problems.
To lower your blood lipid level (or keep a healthy blood lipid level), adopting or maintaining a healthy lifestyle is extremely important. Taking care of your mental health may be beneficial; even small changes to your lifestyle can have a positive impact on both your physical and mental health. For more information on taking up a healthier lifestyle, please read: Health promotion.
It is important that you are aware of the possibility of developing dyslipidaemia and that you know the symptoms and signs. If you have any further questions or if the information in this brochure worries you, please contact your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist.
Where can I find more information?
You may find more information about dyslipidaemia online. However, it is important to be aware that this information is not always up to date or accurate.
While the PanCare PLAIN information group strives to provide accurate and complete information that is up-to-date as of the date of publication, you can check with your general practitioner or follow-up care specialist if this summary reflects the most up-to-date information available and whether it is relevant for you.
Please do not rely solely on this information. It is best to also seek the advice of a qualified medical practitioner if you have questions regarding a specific medical condition, disease, diagnosis or symptom.
No warranty or representation, expressed or implied, is made concerning the accuracy, reliability, completeness, relevance, or timeliness of this information. PanCare has produced the English version and PanCare is not responsible for the translated versions of this summary.
 van Kalsbeek, R. et al. (2021) European PANCAREFOLLOWUP recommendations for surveillance of late effects of childhood, adolescent, and Young Adult Cancer, European journal of cancer. Available at: https://www.ejcancer.com/article/S0959-8049(21)00368-3/fulltext.