Article Text

Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids for the treatment and prevention of colorectal cancer
  1. A J Cockbain1,
  2. G J Toogood2,
  3. M A Hull1
  1. 1Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK
  2. 2Department of Hepatobiliary Surgery, St James's University Hospital, Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust, Leeds, UK
  1. Correspondence to Professor Mark Hull, Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, Wellcome Trust Brenner Building, St James' University Hospital, Beckett Street, Leeds, LS9 7TF, UK; m.a.hull{at}


Omega (ω)-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are naturally occurring substances that are well tolerated and have been used extensively for the prevention of cardiovascular disease. More recently, ω-3 PUFAs have been recognised to have anticancer activity. There is also evidence suggesting improved efficacy and/or tolerability of conventional cancer chemotherapy when administered with ω-3 PUFAs. The purpose of this review is to (i) describe the mechanisms by which ω-3 PUFAs are thought to have antineoplastic activity, (ii) review published preclinical and clinical studies that support anti-colorectal cancer activity and (iii) summarise current clinical trials investigating the potential therapeutic role(s) of ω-3 PUFAs at different stages of colorectal carcinogenesis, from adenoma (polyp) prevention to treatment of established malignant disease and prevention of cancer recurrence.

  • Colorectal neoplasms
  • neoplasm metastasis
  • fatty acids, Omega-3
  • chemotherapy
  • cyclooxygenase-2
  • colorectal cancer
  • cyclooxygenase-2
  • fatty acid supplementation

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Supplementary materials

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  • Search strategy and selection criteria: Data for this review were identified by searches of Medline, PubMed and relevant articles using the MESH search terms ‘fish oils’, ‘fatty acids’, ‘colorectal neoplasms’ and ‘liver neoplasms’. Only papers published in English, or including an English abstract, between 1975 and 2010 were included. Ongoing clinical trials were identified by searches of publicly available Clinical Trials Registries (including, Current Controlled Trials, WHO International Clinical Trials Registry Platform, National Cancer Institute and NIHR Clinical Research Network Portfolio) and pharmaceutical company registries (including the International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations Clinical Trials Portal, Pfizer Clinical Trials and GlaxoSmithKline Clinical Trials Register).

  • Competing interests MAH has received an unrestricted scientific grant from, and performed paid consultancy work for, SLA Pharma AG, which produces a formulation of eicosapentaenoic acid.

  • Provenance and peer review Commissioned; externally peer reviewed.