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Omega-3 Fatty Acids May Aid in Treatment and Prevention of Skin and Oral Cancers

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Key Points

  • Omega-3 fatty acids were found to selectively inhibit the growth of the malignant oral and skin squamous cell carcinomas and premalignant cells at doses that did not affect the normal cells.
  • The investigators believe that there is potential for using omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention and treatment of skin and oral cancers.

Omega-3 fatty acids, contained in oily fish such as salmon and trout, selectively inhibit growth and induce cell death in early- and late-stage oral and skin squamous cell carcinomas, according to new research from scientists at Queen Mary, University of London. The findings were published online in Carcinogenesis.

In vitro tests showed omega-3 fatty acids induced cell death in malignant and premalignant cells at doses that did not affect normal cells, suggesting they have the potential to be used in both the treatment and prevention of certain skin and oral cancers.

Study Details

In the experiments, the scientists grew cell cultures in the lab from several different cells lines to which they added long chain omega-3 polyunsaturated acids. The cell lines included both malignant oral and skin squamous cell carcinomas, along with premalignant cells and normal skin and oral cells. Kenneth Parkinson, PhD, Head of the Oral Cancer Research Group at Queen Mary's Institute of Dentistry, said, "We found that the omega-3 fatty acid selectively inhibited the growth of the malignant and premalignant cells at doses which did not affect the normal cells.”

"Surprisingly, we discovered this was partly due to an overstimulation of a key growth factor (epidermal growth factor) which triggered cell death. This is a novel mechanism of action of these fatty acids," he said.

Although previous research has linked omega-3 fatty acids with the prevention of a number of cancers, there has been very little work done on oral cancers or normal cells.

Potential Use in Prevention of Skin and Oral Cancer

Corresponding author Zacharoula Nikolakopoulou, PhD, commented, "As the doses needed to kill the cancer cells do not affect normal cells, especially with one particular fatty acid we used called eicosapentaenoic acid, there is potential for using omega-3 fatty acids in the prevention and treatment of skin and oral cancers.

"It may be that those at an increased risk of such cancers—or their recurrence—could benefit from increased omega-3 fatty acids. Moreover, as the skin and oral cancers are often easily accessible, there is the potential to deliver targeted doses locally via aerosols or gels. However further research is needed to define the appropriate therapeutic doses,” she said.

The content in this post has not been reviewed by the American Society of Clinical Oncology, Inc. (ASCO®) and does not necessarily reflect the ideas and opinions of ASCO®.


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