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Can Fish Oil Reduce The Risk of Bowel Cancer?

Posted Mar 19 2010 10:42am

A recent study suggests that daily capsules of purified fish oil may be helpful in slowing or preventing bowel cancer where a particular genetic condition exists.

There is a condition called FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis) which runs in families, that puts its sufferers at very high risk of developing bowel cancer. People who have the condition develop a large number of polyps –  typically hundreds by the ages of fifteen to twenty - which almost inevitably become cancerous if left untreated because there are so many of them.. Existing treatment is quite radical, usually involving surgery to remove sections of the bowel. Medication is available - celecoxib - to slow the growth of new polyps, but this carries an increased risk of heart attack.

A small study was recently carried out with 55 patients from St Mark’s Hospital in London  in order to monitor the effects of taking capsules of ESA (eicosapentaenoic acid), a purified fish oil. Previous studies in mice had indicated that this might work in the same way as celecoxib, so the aim of the study was to see what the possibilities would be of using ESA as an alternative to celecoxib for people with FAP.

The study found that people who took the capsules for 6 months had fewer polyps, of smaller size, than they had to begin with. Patients who’d been given a placebo, on the other hand, had more polyps, & of greater size.

The study was carefully designed & carried out & the results considered to be reliable. However long term studies are required to find out if  these effects of ESA would continue over time, and to see if they would result in a  reduction in the incidence of bowel cancer. Comparative studies of  celecoxib will also be necessary. Further research may also establish whether ESA could be used to stop polyps growing in the first place,  and possibly render surgery unecessary.

Taking large amounts of fish oil can have the side effects of making the people who are taking it feel sick, suffer from heartburn, or be left with a fishy taste in their mouths. The capsules used had a coating to stop them from breaking down in the stomach, in order to avert these effects.
Although ESA medication does not exist as yet, there are currently fish oil supplements on sale, some available with a coating to avoid being broken down by stomach acid. If this was being considered it could be discussed with a doctor to clarify the optimum dose. There is evidence to suggest that the Omega 3 oils found in oily fish & seafood help prevent bowel cancer, as well as other diseases & illness, so for those not subject to the genetic health problem of FAP it might be useful to increase our weekly intake.


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