Intake of omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids and risk of ovarian cancer

Cancer Causes Control. 2012 Nov;23(11):1775-83. doi: 10.1007/s10552-012-0053-4. Epub 2012 Aug 30.


Objectives: Limited experimental evidence suggests that omega-3 polyunsaturated (n-3) fatty acids inhibit the proliferation of ovarian cancer cells in vitro, whereas omega-6 polyunsaturated (n-6) fatty acids have been shown to promote carcinogenesis, but epidemiological studies to date have been inconclusive. Our aim was to evaluate the role of polyunsaturated fatty acids in ovarian carcinogenesis.

Methods: Participants in the Australian Ovarian Cancer Study (1,366 cases and 1,414 population controls) self-completed risk factor and food frequency questionnaires. Logistic regression models were used to calculate adjusted odds ratio (OR) and 95 % confidence intervals (CI).

Results: We found no association between intake of total n-3 fatty acids from foods, or the individual n-3 fatty acids-alpha-linolenic, eicosapentaenoic, docosapentaenoic, docosahexaenoic acids-and ovarian cancer risk. High intake of total n-6 fatty acids was inversely associated with risk (OR for highest vs. lowest category 0.78, 95 % CI 0.60-1.00, p-trend 0.04); however, the association was restricted to n-6 fatty acids from avocado, vegetables, and nuts. Neither higher intake of the individual n-6 fatty acids nor the ratio of n-3 to n-6 fatty acids was associated with ovarian cancer risk. We found no evidence that risk varied by supplement use.

Conclusions: Our data provide no evidence of a protective role for n-3 fatty acids in ovarian carcinogenesis. The benefit, if any, of higher intake of n-6 fatty acids is due to general properties of the food sources, rather than due to the n-6 fatty acids per se.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Australia / epidemiology
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / adverse effects
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / administration & dosage*
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / adverse effects
  • Feeding Behavior
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / etiology
  • Ovarian Neoplasms / prevention & control
  • Risk Factors
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Young Adult


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6