Animal study findings suggest a diet rich in omega-3s may help delay the spread of breast cancer cells
05/05/2020 // Divina Ramirez // Views

A diet rich in fish oil can inhibit the spread of breast cancer cells in vivo, according to a recent study. The report, published in Clinical & Experimental Metastasis, established that omega-3 fatty acids, such as those found in fish oil, exhibit protective effects against aggressive breast cancer cells.

The researchers also found that omega-3 fatty acids also stimulated the production of T-cells, a type of white blood cell that fortifies the immune system against tumors.

What is breast cancer?

Breast cancer is the second most common type of cancer among women in the U.S., according to recent reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). In fact, about one in eight American women is expected to develop invasive breast cancer at least once during her lifetime.

For women with breast cancer, the cells in their breast tissues tend to grow and spread at an abnormal rate. These cells often continue to accumulate and lead to the formation of hard lumps or tumors. If left untreated, breast cancer cells can also spread to different organs like the lungs, liver and brain. These cells can also affect the lymph nodes that act as filters for harmful substances.

Visible signs of breast cancer include itchiness in the breasts, change in breast color, peeling of the areola or nipple, abnormal nipple discharge, nipple retraction and swollen or lopsided breasts.

Most cases of breast cancer are linked to hormonal imbalances and genetic factors. According to earlier studies, changes in diet and lifestyle habits can decrease the risk of breast cancer, even in women considered to be high risk. For instance, women who neither drink nor smoke are less likely to develop breast cancer than women who do either or both. (Related: Drinking less alcohol lowers your risk of cancer, researchers conclude.)


Currently, there is no accepted mainstream cure for breast cancer. Like most cancers, conventional treatment for breast cancer includes invasive procedures like chemotherapy, radiation therapy and surgery.

Omega-3s can inhibit the growth and spread of cancer cells

Omega-3s are a group of polyunsaturated fats found in salmon, tuna and herring. But some plant-based foods like nuts, chia seeds and Brussels sprouts are also excellent sources of these fats.

Considered an essential macronutrient, omega-3s are hailed for their anti-inflammatory properties that protect against chronic conditions like Alzheimer's disease, heart disease and osteoporosis.

A team of researchers from the University of Nebraska Medical Center found that omega-3s also exhibit potent anti-cancer activities.

To examine how omega-3s interacted with breast cancer cells, the researchers studied two groups of adult female Bagg Albino mice fed a liquid diet. The diet had the same calorie count and fat percentage for either group. However, one diet contained fish oil rich in omega-3s, while the other contained plant oils rich in omega-6, a type of polyunsaturated fat that can cause inflammation in high amounts.

The researchers then injected both groups of mice with invasive breast cancer cells that led to the development of aggressive tumors. The cancer cells used are also known to spread to different organs like the lungs, liver and ovaries. They then studied the mice for 35 days after the injection.

At the end of the experiment, they found that tumors in the breasts of the mice fed the omega-3 diet were 50 percent smaller than those that formed in the mice fed the omega-6 diet. Furthermore, breast cancer cells in the mice fed the omega-3 diet did not spread to other organs.

The mice in the omega-3 group also survived longer than those in the omega-6 group. The researchers also noted that some of the mice in the omega-3 group did not develop breast cancer at all.

In addition, omega-3s led to the production of T-cells that help slow tumor growth. The mice in the omega-3 group also had less inflammation. The researchers posited that omega-3s might work to suppress inflammation that triggers the development of tumors. Omega-3s might also help boost the anti-tumor functions of T-cells.

Based on their findings, the researchers concluded that omega-3s can be used as a form of therapeutic treatment to inhibit the spread of breast cancer cells and control tumor growth.

Omega-3s can ease cancer-related complications

Another recent review published in Nutrients discussed the protective effects of omega-3s against common cancer complications like anorexia-cachexia syndrome and major depressive disorder (MDD).

Researchers from the Escola de Ciencias da Saude in Brazil found proof that omega-3 supplementation can induce anti-depressant effects in cancer patients with MDD. Omega-3s also showed potential as a natural analgesic or painkiller, which might help cancer patients with anorexia-cachexia syndrome feel less fatigue and cancer-related pain.

The researchers concluded that omega-3 supplementation, or diets rich in omega-3s, can be used as an effective adjunctive treatment for cancer patients to minimize cancer-related complications.

In addition, the findings might be used for the development of holistic strategies that can improve cancer patients' quality of life in the long run.

Read more articles about cancer-fighting foods and diets at

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