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Fish Oil for Cancer

Fighting Cancer with Fish Oil

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Updated May 31, 2012

Written or reviewed by a board-certified physician. See About.com's Medical Review Board.

Fish Oil and Cancer

Fish oil contains omega-3 fatty acids, a type of healthy fat sometimes purported to fight cancer. A number of studies suggest that the omega-3s eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) can help curb inflammation, a destructive process linked to cancer development. But while there's some evidence that omega-3s may reduce cancer risk, the overall research on fish oil supplements and cancer prevention has yielded mixed results so far.

The Science Behind Fish Oil and Cancer

There's not enough scientific evidence to support the use of fish oil for cancer prevention, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH). What's more, a 2006 research review from the Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that taking omega-3 supplements alone are "unlikely to prevent cancer." Here's a look at other key findings from the available research on fish oil and cancer:

1) Fish Oil and Endometrial Cancer

Eating omega-3-rich fish may cut your risk of endometrial cancer, suggests a 2002 study published in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention. Looking at data on 3,597 participants, the study's authors found that women with a high consumption of fatty fish had a significantly lower risk of endometrial cancer (compared to those who ate the least fatty fish).

2) Fish Oil and Prostate Cancer

In a 2010 research review from the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, scientists found "no strong evidence" that fish consumption can reduce risk of prostate cancer. However, the review's authors note that fish consumption may be linked to a 63 percent decrease in prostate-cancer-specific mortality.

3) Fish Oil and Breast Cancer

Loading up on fish oil may help fight breast cancer, according to a 2009 study from BMC Cancer. Sizing up the diets of 358 breast cancer patients and 360 women without breast cancer, researchers determined that those with high intake of omega-3s had a significantly lower breast cancer risk.

Should You Use Fish Oil to Fight Cancer

Although it's too soon to recommend the use of fish oil supplements for cancer prevention, boosting your omega-3 intake may help enhance your overall health and offer some protection against heart disease. To get your fill of DHA and EPA, look to omega-3-rich fish like mackerel, tuna, salmon, sardines, and herring. If you're considering the use of fish oil supplements for the prevention of cancer (or for any other health purposes), talk to your doctor before you start your supplement regimen.

Sources

National Institutes of Health. "Fish oil: MedlinePlus Supplements". January 2011.

MacLean CH, Newberry SJ, Mojica WA, Khanna P, Issa AM, Suttorp MJ, Lim YW, Traina SB, Hilton L, Garland R, Morton SC. "Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on cancer risk: a systematic review." JAMA. 2006 Jan 25;295(4):403-15.

Szymanski KM, Wheeler DC, Mucci LA. "Fish consumption and prostate cancer risk: a review and meta-analysis." Am J Clin Nutr. 2010 Nov;92(5):1223-33.

Kim J, Lim SY, Shin A, Sung MK, Ro J, Kang HS, Lee KS, Kim SW, Lee ES. "Fatty fish and fish omega-3 fatty acid intakes decrease the breast cancer risk: a case-control study." BMC Cancer. 2009 Jun 30;9:216.

Terry P, Wolk A, Vainio H, Weiderpass E. "Fatty fish consumption lowers the risk of endometrial cancer: a nationwide case-control study in Sweden." Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2002 Jan;11(1):143-5.

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