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Fish oil may reduce risk of breast cancer

Great news for those who are concerned about breast cancer.  A new study reported in Cancer Epidemiology, Biomarkers & Prevention suggests that taking fish oil supplements may help prevent breast cancer.

The study led by Emily White at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, Washington showed that women who regularly used fish oil supplements appeared less likely to develop breast cancer.

White and colleagues surveyed 35,016 postmenopausal women who participated in the so-called Vitamins and Lifestyle cohort study for their use of non-vitamin, non-mineral supplements.

Participants were free of breast cancer at baseline.  After a 6-year follow-up, 880 cases of breast cancer were identified.

The researchers found those who took fish oil supplements regularly were 32 percent less likely to develop breast cancer, particularly invasive ductal breast cancer, the most common type of the disease.

Fish oil is high in mega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which particularly DHA have been found protective against breast cancer in numerous previous studies.  But the current study on how fish oil supplements affect risk of breast cancer is consider the first in the field, according to a press release by the cancer research center.

It should be noted that the study merely gives a suggestion and it does not say taking fish oil supplements is the cause for the lower risk of breast cancer among those fish oil consumers.

One possibility is that the fish oil users followed a healthier lifestyle including use of a healthier diet.

But it is also possible that fish oil indeed has the preventative effect against breast cancer.
 
"It may be that the amount of omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil supplements are higher than most people would typically get from their diet," White said. 
 
White and Edward Giovannucci, M.D., Sc.D. at the Harvard School of Public Health said it is not time yet to recommend taking fish oil as a measure to prevent breast cancer because more research is needed to confirm the effect. 

A health observer suggested that there is no reason to wait.  Ample evidence from hundreds of previous studies suggests that fish oil or omega-3 fatty acids helps prevent breast cancer.  At least, he said, there is no evidence to suggest that use of fish oil boosts the risk of the disease or worsen the condition.

A similar case-control study led by Kim J. and colleagues from the National Cancer Center in South Korea also showed that eating fatty fish was associated with reduced risk of breast cancer in both pre- and postmenopausal women and high intakes of omega-fatty acids from fish were inversely associated with the risk of the disease in postmenopausal women.

The study of 358 Korean women who had breast cancer and 360 controls who did not was published in  the June 2009 issue of BMC Cancer.

Specifically, Kim found premenopausal and postmenopausal women who consumed high amounts of fatty fish were 81 percent and 73 percent less likely to develop breast cancer, respectively, compared with those who consumed least amounts.

Among postmenopausal women, those who consumed more than 0.101 g of EPA and 0.213 g of DHA per day were 62 and 68 percent less likely to have breast cancer compared with those having intake of less than 0.014 g of EPA and 0.037 g of DHA per day.

Among premenopausal women, those in the highest quartile of the intake of omega-3 fatty acids appeared to cut the risk by 54 percent, compared with those who had the lowest quartile of intake. 

In the United States, one in eight women will sooner or later be diagnosed with breast cancer.  The disease strikes 175,000 women each year and kills about 45,000 annually in the country, according to the National Cancer Institute.

By David Liu