Fish oil supplementation has been shown to improve the response rate to chemotherapy and prevent weight loss in the treatment of the most common form of lung cancer according to the results of a study published in the journal Cancer in February.
The study, conducted by Canadian researchers at the University of Alberta, followed 46 patients who were receiving treatment for non small cell lung cancer. All patients underwent a common chemotherapy regime (carboplatin combined with vinorelbine or gemcitabine). A fish oil supplement containing 2.5g of EPA and DHA was given daily to 15 of the patients while the remaining 31 received the chemotherapy treatment only.
The researchers found that the response rate to chemotherapy was 60% in the fish oil group compared to just 25.8% in the group not receiving fish oil. The one year survival rate for the chemotherapy patients who received the fish oil was 60% compared to just 38.7% for the non fish oil group. In addition, weight loss, which is common in cancer patients and often exacerbated by chemotherapy, did not occur in the fish oil group while the group not taking fish oil lost an average of 2.3 kilograms.
Unintended weight-loss or “cachexia” is a common problem in cancer patients, particularly in those with advanced metastatic cancer. Cachexia is a strong predictor of cancer survival with some studies suggesting that cachexia may be directly responsible, or a contributing factor, in as many as 20% of cancer deaths. Cancer inducced cachexia is generally the result of decreased energy intake through loss of appetite, early satiety, and nausea, and an increase in metabolic rate. Inflammatory cytokines such as tumor necrosis factor-α (TNF-α) and interleukin-6 (IL-6), which are chronically elevated in many cancer patients, are thought to play a role in cachexia. Laboratory studies have found that the production of certain pro-inflammatory cytokines is supressed by both EPA and DHA, which are omega-3 fatty acids found in fish oil.
Although this was a relatively small study, animal studies have produced similar results. One study showed a significant reduction in the growth of human breast cancer tumours transplanted into mice when combined with chemotherapy compared to chemotherapy alone. Studies have also shown that fish consumption can reduce the risk of developing cancer in the first place. The effect appears to be greatest for cancers of the digestive tract such as the stomach, colon, and esophagus.
Non small cell lung cancer is the most common type of lung cancer in the United States making up more than 80% of lung cancer cases. When lung cancer occurs in non-smokers it is almost always this form of lung cancer. Non small cell lung cancer is problematic in that it is relatively resistant to chemotherapy. The response rate to most chemotherapy regimes is typically less than 30%. NSCLC has an overall 5 year survival rate of just 15% however if the cancer is picked up at an early stage then survival rates are much higher.
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