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Omega 3 fatty acids might reduce side effects of breast cancer treatment

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Omega 3 fatty acids explored  for reducing side effects of breast cancer drugs.

Medications known as aromatase inhibitors are prescribed for women to prevent breast cancer recurrence. Unfortunately, the medications cause side effects that include joint pain and changes in cognitive function that make it difficult to take the medications long-term.

Dr. Maryam Lustberg, an assistant professor at the Ohio State College of Medicine says, “Up to a third of my patients were reporting joint symptoms on aromatase inhibitor therapy which was impacting their quality of life and some had to stop taking the medication.”

Lustberg says oncologists frequently hear complaints about the side effects of breast cancer drugs.

The medications are designed to lower the amount of estrogen in the body to keep breast cancer from recurring. Without the therapy, the disease is more likely to return.

Hoping to find a solution, Lustberg has teamed up with Tonya Orchard, a doctoral student in nutrition working on study with post-menopausal women and the consumption of fatty acids.

Orchard and Lustberg met at a seminar hosted by Ohio State’s Center for Clinical and Translational Science (CCTS).

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Orchard says, “We put together a grant proposal and the Cancer and Leukemia Group B awarded us pilot funding to see if omega-3’s could help women taking these estrogen-blocking drugs.”

“Early on, I was fascinated with research showing a correlation between omega-3’s and bone mineral density, but it was really after seeing my grandmother suffer from several lumbar fractures, a hip fracture and ultimately ending up in a nursing home that my interest in fatty acids was solidified,” says Orchard.

Orchard explains fatty acids are safe during chemotherapy and may offer hope for women who can’t tolerate the side effects of breast cancer drugs because they change the ways cells communicate with other.

Omegas 3’s send signals to cells related to inflammation. She plans to continue her research into the potential benefits of omega 3 fatty acids and how they impact musculoskeletal diseases and inflammation.

Drs. Lustberg and Orchard are also working with neuroscientist Dr. Courtney DeVries to find out if effects of omega-3 supplementation could help cognitive symptoms associated with chemotherapy.

One-third of women undergoing breast cancer therapy will experience problems with memory and verbal fluency. The researchers say they believe omega 3 fatty acids could provide a solution.

Image credit: Morguefile