PURPOSE: The anticancer activity of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (omega-3 PUFA) has been shown in a large number of studies. This study was undertaken to analyze the combined effect of omega-3 PUFA and antioxidative vitamins on the level of spontaneous metastatic dissemination. The supportive effect of this dietary combination on chemotherapy with cisplatin (CP) was determined in parallel.

METHODS: C57BL/6J mice bearing the Lewis lung carcinoma 3LL were fed ad libitum one of three isocaloric diets containing 5% soybean oil supplemented with 40 mg/kg alpha-tocopherol acetate (SO diet), or 4% fish oil plus 1% corn oil, and basal amounts of vitamin E (FO diet) or FO diet supplemented with vitamins E and C (FO+E+C diet). These diets were tested in combination with the conventional cytotoxic agent CP in a series of regimens. Tumor growth, feed consumption, body weight, lung metastasis and lung histology were followed.

RESULTS: Both the FO dietary groups showed significantly lower tumor development than the SO group in all examined parameters, indicating that omega-3 PUFA have anticancer activity. However, the FO diet, in comparison with the FO+E+C diet induced a significantly slower rate of tumor growth, and lower metastatic load, as reflected in lung weight. The decrease in the anticancer activity of FO by the addition of vitamins E and C suggests that in situ oxidation of omega-3 PUFA underlies their anticancer action. It is thus proposed that oxidized omega-3 PUFA accumulates in the membranes and the cytosol of tumor cells, reducing their vitality and eventually leading to their death. No signs of anorexia or cachexia were observed in either FO group, in contrast to the SO group. CP treatment with the SO diet had no apparent therapeutic effect, while with the FO diets it reduced the metastatic load. The best regimen of this combined treatment was FO diet followed by CP treatment with FO diet supplemented with vitamins E and C after resection of the primary growth. This regimen could be translated to a combined therapy for human cancer.

CONCLUSIONS: Diets enriched with omega-3 PUFA may have beneficial anticancer effects in particular when containing only basal amounts of antioxidants such as vitamin E or C. Furthermore, the addition of drugs which promote oxidation of omega-3 PUFA, such as ferrous salts (e.g. as prescribed for the treatment of anemia), may further increase these effects. However, the supportive effect of omega-3 PUFA in chemotherapy (e.g. with CP) increases when vitamins E and C are also included.