Omega-3 fatty acids improve liver and pancreas function in postoperative cancer patients

Int J Cancer. 2004 Sep 10;111(4):611-6. doi: 10.1002/ijc.20291.


Epidemiologic studies have indicated that high intake of saturated fat and/or animal fat increases the risk of colon and breast cancer. Omega-3 PUFAs in fish oil (FO) can inhibit the growth of human cancer cells in vitro and in vivo. These effects are related to the uptake of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) into the cellular substrate pool and their competitive metabolism with arachidonic acid (AA) at the cyclooxygenase and 5-lipoxygenase levels. The metabolites of EPA and DHA have less inflammatory and immunosuppressant potency than the substances derived from AA. Based on previous experimental data, we hypothesized that FO supplementation after major abdominal cancer surgery would improve hepatic and pancreatic function. Ours was a prospective, randomized, double-blinded clinical trial on 44 patients undergoing elective major abdominal surgery, randomly assigned to receive total parenteral nutrition (TPN) supplemented with either soybean oil (SO 1.0 g/kg body weight daily, n = 20) for 5 days or a combination of FO and SO (FO 0.2 + SO 0.8 g/kg body weight daily, n = 24). Compared to pure SO supplementation in the postoperative period, FO significantly reduced ASAT [0.8 +/- 0.1 vs. 0.5 +/- 0.1 mmol/(l. sec)], ALAT [0.9 +/- 0.1 vs. 0.6 +/- 0.1 mmol/(l. sec)], bilirubin (16.1 +/- 5.3 vs. 6.9 +/- 0.6 mmol/l), LDH (7.7 +/- 0.4 vs. 6.7 +/- 0.4 mmol/(l. sec) and lipase (0.6 +/- 0.1 vs. 0.4 +/- 0.1 micromol/(l. sec) in the postoperative course. Moreover, patients with increased risk of sepsis (IL-6/IL-10 ratio >8) showed a tendency to shorter ICU stay (18 hr) under omega-3 PUFA treatment. Weight loss as encountered after the SO emulsion of 1.1 +/- 2.2 kg was absent in the FO group. After major abdominal tumor surgery, FO supplementation improved liver and pancreas function, which might have contributed to the faster recovery of patients.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Carcinoma / surgery*
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / pharmacology*
  • Female
  • Gastrointestinal Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Humans
  • Liver / physiology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / surgery*
  • Pancrelipase / physiology*
  • Parenteral Nutrition, Total
  • Postoperative Care
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Sepsis
  • Soybean Oil / therapeutic use*


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Pancrelipase
  • Soybean Oil