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Omega-3 fatty acids and cancers: a systematic update review of epidemiological studies

  • Mariette Gerber (a1) (a2)
  • DOI:
  • Published online: 17 May 2012

Experimental models showed consistently a modulation of carcinogenesis by omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (ω3 PUFA). Fish intake is often described as part of a beneficial dietary pattern. However, observational epidemiological studies on the relationship between ω3 PUFA reported conflicting results. The objective of this systematic review is to determine whether there exists any progress in the evaluation of the causal relationship between dietary ω3 PUFA and cancers since the previous FAO/OMS expert consultation and whether it is possible to propose preventive and/or adjuvant therapeutic recommendations. Prospective and case-control observational studies published since 2007 and meeting validity criteria were considered together with RCT. Experimental studies are mentioned to provide for biological plausibility. When evaluating the level of evidence, a portfolio approach was used, weighted by a hierarchy giving higher importance to prospective studies followed by RCT if any. There is a probable level of evidence that ALA per se is neither a risk factor nor a beneficial factor with regards to cancers. Observational studies on colorectal, prostate and breast cancers only provided limited evidence suggesting a possible role of LC-ω3PUFA in cancer prevention because insufficient homogeneity of the observations. Explanation for heterogeneity might be the inherent difficulties associated with epidemiology (confounding and dietary pattern context, measurement error, level of intake, genetic polymorphism). The role of LC-ω3PUFA as adjuvant, might be considered of possible use, in view of the latest RCT on lung cancers even if RCT on other cancers still need to be undertaken.

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*Corresponding author: M. Gerber, fax +33 468456195, email
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