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Omega-3 EPA Reduces Inherited Pre-Cancerous Bowel Tumors


Investigators at the University of Leeds have created a new preparation of the omega-3 fatty acid, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), which may reduce the risk of an inherited form of bowel cancer by reducing the size and number of pre-cancerous polyps.

Familial Adenomatous Polyposis (FAP) is an inherited cancer of the large intestine and rectum that may be responsible for about one in every 100 bowel cancers. People with the classic type of FAP may begin to develop multiple colon polyps as early as the teen years. If these are not treated, they become malignant and the average age of cancer onset is 39 years.

Overall, FAP occurs in about 1 in 7,000 to 1 in 22,000 people and is caused by a mutation in the APC gene that affects the ability of the cell to maintain normal growth and function or the MUTYH gene that prevents the cells from correcting mistakes during DNA replication.

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The researchers gave 55 FAP patients either a 2 gram highly purified formulation of EPA, called Alfa, or a placebo for six months. Those who received the omega-3 capsules had a significant (12%) reduction in the number and size of the polyps, while the placebo group showed a 10% increase in polyp number and a 17% increase in size over the same period.

The study also found that the new treatment works as well as the standard treatment for FAP patients, a drug called celecoxib (Celebrex), but doesn’t cause the same heart-related side effects.

Mark Hull, study author, said, "The particular preparation of EPA that we used delivers approximately four times as much beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acid per day as is derived from eating two to three portions of fish a week. The drug is also designed to be released into the small intestine, minimizing nausea and halitosis often associated with taking over-the-counter fish oil supplements.”

The scientists will continue their investigation of the omega-3 preparation on non-inherited bowel cancers.

The study was published online March 18 in the journal Gut.