By Lana Maciel, MD Anderson Staff Writer
Doctors have often recommended that patients take fish oil supplements to reduce the risk of heart disease. But a recent study indicates that taking this supplement, which has strong anti-inflammatory properties, may also combat the risk for breast cancer.
The Vitamins and Lifestyle (VITAL) study surveyed 35,016 post-menopausal women, from 50 to 76 years old, who had no history of breast cancer. After six years, those who reported taking fish oil supplements regularly had a 32% reduced risk for developing invasive ductal breast cancer, the most common type of breast cancer, compared with those who did not take supplements.
"This study is one of the largest studies that have come out showing that there may be a role for fish oil in the prevention of cancer, specifically breast cancer," says Lorenzo Cohen, Ph.D., professor in the departments of Behavioral Science and General Oncology and director of the Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson. "We know fish oil is useful in relation to cardiovascular health, and the jury is still out on whether it helps in the prevention of breast cancer, but if used appropriately, it should not be harmful."
Studying the fish oil connection
Researchers are still unsure of the direct connection between fish oil and breast cancer risk. Although some studies have not found a link between breast cancer and eating more fatty fish, it is possible that fish oil supplements have a much higher amount of omega-3 fatty acids than what is typically found in the fish itself.
Still, research on how the supplement affects various cancers continues. Peiying Yang, Ph.D., assistant professor in MD Anderson's Integrative Medicine Program, recently received a grant from the National Cancer Institute to study the effects of fish oil supplements on lung cancer risk.
"Fish oil, in general, is a very good anti-inflammatory agent, and inflammation plays an important role in cancer development," Yang says.
Although previous studies indicate there is a positive link between fish oil and reduced cancer incidence, researchers note that there is not sufficient evidence to make a public health recommendation.
"I would not recommend that people start taking fish oil specifically to prevent breast cancer because the data is just not there yet," says Bette Caan, Dr.P.H., senior research scientist at the Kaiser Permanente Northern California Division of Research. "But if they are taking it for other reasons, they should continue."
MD Anderson resources
Integrative Medicine Program at MD Anderson
Essential Fatty Acids: The Good, the Bad and the Balancing Act (Cancerwise)
Omega-3 fatty acids, effects on cancer
Omega-3 fatty acids (American Cancer Society)
Study Finds Promising Link Between Fish Oil, Breast Cancer
By Lana Maciel, MD Anderson Staff Writer
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