Increased arachidonic acid concentrations in experimental rodent colonic cancer have been described recently. In humans, a reduced erythrocyte stearic acid to oleic acid ratio has been reported in patients with colorectal cancer and it has been proposed that similar changes exist in the cancer tissue. The long chain fatty acids in the cancers of 15 patients with colorectal cancer were measured and compared with values in the unaffected mucosa. The values were expressed as mean (SD) mg fatty acid/g tissue and compared by analysis of variance. In the cancer tissue arachidonic acid was increased (0.703 (0.109) mg/g v 0.603 (0.127) mg/g, p less than 0.05) as was docosahexaenoic acid (0.211 (0.066) mg/g v 0.148 (0.039) mg/g, p less than 0.001). In contrast, the stearic acid to oleic acid ratio in the cancer tissue was increased rather than decreased, as previously suggested (0.36 (0.05) v 0.29 (0.7), p less than 0.01). Increased arachidonic acid and docosahexaenoic acid concentrations may be related to reduced lipid peroxidation, which is a feature of rapidly growing cells. Alternatively, the increased arachidonic acid values could be due to enhanced desaturase activity upon linoleic and linolenic acid, leading perhaps to increased formation of prostaglandins and other lipoxygenase products.
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