Effect of dietary fat on human breast cancer growth and lung metastasis in nude mice

J Natl Cancer Inst. 1991 Oct 16;83(20):1491-5. doi: 10.1093/jnci/83.20.1491.


Results from epidemiological studies have generally indicated an association of dietary saturated animal fats with human breast cancer risk. Some studies, however, have suggested a similar association for some polyunsaturated vegetable fats shown to promote both rodent mammary carcinogenesis and metastasis. This study was performed to evaluate the effects of corn oil on growth and metastasis of MDA-MB-435 human breast cancer cells, which have a propensity for metastasis. Corn oil is rich in the omega-6 fatty acid linoleic acid. Fifty-eight female athymic nude mice (NCr-nu/nu) were fed a high-fat diet (23% wt/wt corn oil; 12% linoleic acid) or a low-fat diet (5% wt/wt corn oil; 2.7% linoleic acid). Seven days after diets were started, tumor cells (1 x 10(6) were injected into a mammary fat pad. The time to appearance of solid tumors and the tumor size were recorded. After 15 weeks, the study was terminated, and autopsies were performed to determine the weight of the primary tumor and the extent of metastasis. The latent interval for tumor appearance in the animals fed the high-fat diet was shorter than that in the low-fat diet group, and the tumor growth rate in the high-fat diet group showed a small but statistically significant increase compared with the low-fat diet group. Primary tumors developed in 27 of the 29 mice on the high-fat diet and in 21 of the 29 on the low-fat diet. Of the mice with palpable primary tumors, 18 of 27 in the high-fat diet group and eight of 21 in the low-fat diet group had macroscopic lung metastases. The extent of metastasis in the high-fat diet group was independent of the primary tumor weight, but only those in the low-fat diet group with primary tumors weighing more than 2 g developed metastases. These results suggest that a high-fat diet rich in omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acid can enhance metastasis of human breast cancer cells in this mouse model. The findings support the need for further study of the relationship between dietary polyunsaturated fats and breast cancer risk and for experiments to determine the effect on metastasis of only a 50% difference in fat intake--the dietary goal of the proposed clinical trials of low-fat dietary intervention in breast cancer patients.

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Breast Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Corn Oil / toxicity
  • Dietary Fats / toxicity*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Linoleic Acid
  • Linoleic Acids / toxicity
  • Lung Neoplasms / pathology*
  • Lung Neoplasms / secondary
  • Mammary Neoplasms, Experimental / pathology*
  • Mice
  • Mice, Nude
  • Tumor Cells, Cultured


  • Dietary Fats
  • Linoleic Acids
  • Corn Oil
  • Linoleic Acid