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D.iet & H.ealth : C.ancer Last Updated: Nov 12th, 2006 - 20:38:00

Fatty Fish Consumption Linked to Reduced Kidney Cancer Risk
By Kathy Jones
Sep 20, 2006, 10:54

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20 Sep, ( - Consuming a high amount of fatty fish may reduce the risk of the most common type of kidney cancer, according to Swedish researchers. Fatty fish like salmon and sardines contain a high amount of omega-3 fatty acids and may play a role in reducing the risk of renal cell carcinoma, the researchers added.

The large study conducted over a period of 15 years compared the benefits of fatty and lean fish consumption. Specifically the study was designed to examine the impact of eating fatty fish on kidney.

Previous studies have tried to analyze the benefits of consuming fish on risk reduction of cancer. However it may be noted that all these studies looked at fish in general and did not separate them as fatty fish and lean fish.

This distinction is important, according to Alicja Wolk and colleagues of the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm. Fatty fish contain 20-30 times more omega-3 fatty acids than lean fish. Additionally fatty fish has three to five times higher content of vitamin D than lean fish.

Earlier studies have documented that serum vitamin D levels are linked with development and progression of renal cell carcinoma.

The current first of its kind study involved 61,433 women from the Swedish Mammography Cohort, a population-based prospective cohort study that began March 1, 1987. All women were aged 40 to 76 years and did not have any previous diagnosis of cancer at the beginning of the study.

Researchers at the Karolinska University in Sweden handed out 67-item food-frequency questionnaire for all participants. The questionnaire was filled at the start of the study and in September 1997. Researchers set out to find the association between the consumption of fatty fish, lean fish and seafood and the incidence of renal cell carcinoma in these women.

Fatty fish included salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel; lean fish included cod, tuna and fresh water fish; and seafood included shrimp, lobster and crayfish.

In the follow-up period of 15 years, there were 150 cases of kidney cancer recorded in this group. The researchers found that women who ate at least one serving of fatty fish in a week had a 44 percent less chance of developing kidney cancer.

No such link was found between consumption of lean fish and seafood and kidney cancer incidence.

"Women who reported consistent long-term consumption of fatty fish at baseline and 10 years later had a statistically significant 74 percent lower risk," the authors said in their paper published in the Sept. 20 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.

"Our results support the hypothesis that frequent consumption of fatty fish may lower the risk of renal cell cancer possibly due to increased intake of fish oil rich in eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaeneoic acid as well as vitamin D."

Eugenia Calle, director of analytic epidemiology for the American Cancer Society said the study was significant. "There is very little published on this topic -- it may be the only study to look at fatty fish and kidney cancer," she said.

But the study had certain limitations. The authors admit that there may be issues since the self-administered questionnaire may have misclassified several types of fish. This is because observational data can be wrong, they said, adding that another shortcoming was that they did not analyze the omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D intakes directly.

Therefore the nature of their conclusions is merely speculative, they said. Another possible limitation was that the study included women and did not mention men.

"Our results, however, require confirmation because this is the first epidemiological study addressing this issue," they said.

Omega-3 fatty acids are considered essential fatty acids, which means that they are essential to human health but cannot be manufactured by the body. They are most abundantly found in fish and are associated with reducing the risk of several diseases including heart disease and strokes.

The association between omega-3 fatty acids and reduced risk of cancers somewhat flimsy. However a study published in The Lancet in May 2001 had suggested that these fatty acids reduced the risk of prostate cancer. Karolinska University researchers led by Dr Paul Terry had found this association.

In 2002 another research team from Norway had presented findings that the fatty acids found in fish crippled the mitochondria in certain types of cancer cells, making the cells commit suicide. This research led by Hilde Heimli at the Institute for Nutrition Research at the University of Oslo was presented in October 2002.

The results are encouraging, Ms Calle said, but added that kidney cancer was not all that common in the US. "This is not a common cancer, so the public health impact is not as great as it would be, say, for breast, lung, prostate," she said, adding, "if [fatty fish] were associated with a decreased risk of additional cancers, that would be a very important message."

Currently dietary recommendations issued by the American Cancer Society do not include any instructions for the type of fish to consume. "As more data become available, our dietary recommendations are reviewed and updated," she explained.

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