Different intervention trials have been so far conducted and others are ongoing to evaluate the effect of increased intake of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in the prevention of several disorders affecting lungs and airways. They have been focused on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, acute respiratory distress syndrome, acute lung injury, pulmonary fibrosis, alteration of lung function in cystic fibrosis, as well as asthma and cachexia in lung cancer patients. Their outcomes are not always consistent, but, if beneficial effects were observed, they have been related mainly to the anti-inflammatory action of n-3 PUFAs.

On the contrary, trials investigating their effects on the development and progression of lung cancer are still not available. This in spite of the huge number of equivalent studies performed on other kind of cancers (breast, colon and prostate cancer), which share with lung cancer the highest incidence in Western countries and an elevated sensitivity to chemoprevention.

Contrasting results were also obtained by the few epidemiological studies available on lung cancer. However, different experimental studies, performed in vivo and in vitro, provided strong indications of the anti-tumor action of n-3 PUFAs against lung cancer, and identified molecular mechanisms for their action.

In this review our effort will concentrate in critically reviewing the current evidence for the beneficial effect of n-3 PUFAs in inflammatory and neoplastic disorders of lungs and airways, and in identifying possible molecular mechanisms underlying their effects.