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Omega-3 fatty acids in cancer

Laviano, Alessandro; Rianda, Serena; Molfino, Alessio; Fanelli, Filippo Rossi

Current Opinion in Clinical Nutrition and Metabolic Care: March 2013 - Volume 16 - Issue 2 - p 156–161
doi: 10.1097/MCO.0b013e32835d2d99
LIPID METABOLISM AND THERAPY: Edited by Philip C. Calder and Richard J. Deckelbaum

Purpose of review Significant achievements have been obtained in cancer treatment, but the clinical relevance of drug approach in daily practice remains questionable due to the high costs, limited efficacy, and negligible influence on quality of life. A new concept is emerging which is based on the early combination of chemotherapy and nutrition therapy.

Recent findings Inflammation dictates tumour initiation, progression and growth. Omega-3 fatty acids exert anti-inflammatory effects, and therefore recent studies investigated their role in cancer prevention, in cancer cachexia treatment and in enhancement of antitumour therapies. Limited evidence suggests a role for omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in cancer prevention, but they have been shown to preserve muscle mass and function in cancer patients even during active treatment. During chemotherapy, omega-3 fatty acids may contribute to a reduced inflammatory response, but whether cancer treatment toxicity can be prevented remains to be assessed. Finally, small studies showed that omega-3 fatty acids increase response rate to chemotherapy.

Summary Combination of chemotherapy and omega-3 supplementation appears an effective strategy to enhance the clinical outcome of cancer patients in their curative and palliative clinical trajectory.

Department of Clinical Medicine, Sapienza University, Rome, Italy

Correspondence to Alessandro Laviano, MD, Department of Clinical Medicine, Sapienza University, viale dell’Università 37, 00185 Rome, Italy. Tel: +39 0649973902; fax: +39 064440806; e-mail:

© 2013 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.