Enhanced radiosensitivity of rat autochthonous mammary tumors by dietary docosahexaenoic acid

Int J Cancer. 2004 Apr 10;109(3):449-54. doi: 10.1002/ijc.11725.


Dietary docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), which integrates into tumor cell membranes, has been reported to enhance the efficacy against tumors of cytotoxic drugs that induce reactive oxygen species (ROS). Because ionizing radiation also generate ROS, we initiated a study to determine whether dietary DHA might sensitize mammary tumors to irradiation. Mammary tumors were induced by N-methylnitrosourea (NMU) in Sprague-Dawley rats. The optimal dose of radiation to examine the effect of DHA on tumor response to irradiation was determined to be 18 grays (Gy) using a 4-6 MeV electron beam (according to the depth of the target volume) delivered in a single fraction from a linear accelerator. Two groups of rats were fed a basal diet containing 7% of a mixture of peanut and rapeseed oils enriched with 8% of an oil containing either a low (palm oil) or high (DHASCO oil containing 40% DHA) DHA content. DHA group was equally subdivided into 2 groups without or with addition of vitamin E (100 IU/kg diet). Irradiation was carried out when the first tumor in each rat reached 1.5 cm2 and subsequent change in tumor size was documented over time. DHA level in adipose tissue, taken as a biomarker, was higher in the DHA supplemented group compared to the control group. Vitamin E level in liver, the best storage for this compound, was higher in the vitamin E supplemented DHA group compared to the DHA group. Tumor size decreased by 60% at 12 days after irradiation in the DHA group vs. 31% in the control group (p = 0.03) and 36% in the DHA plus vitamin E group. Therefore, dietary DHA sensitized mammary tumors to radiation. The addition of vitamin E inhibited the beneficial effect of DHA, suggesting that this effect might be mediated by oxidative damage to the peroxidizable lipids.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alkylating Agents / toxicity
  • Animals
  • Antioxidants / pharmacology
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / administration & dosage*
  • Dietary Supplements
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids / administration & dosage*
  • Female
  • Lipids / analysis
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / chemically induced
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / radiotherapy*
  • Methylnitrosourea / toxicity
  • Rats
  • Rats, Sprague-Dawley
  • Vitamin E / pharmacology


  • Alkylating Agents
  • Antioxidants
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Lipids
  • Vitamin E
  • Docosahexaenoic Acids
  • Methylnitrosourea