Consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and the risk of skin cancers: a systematic review and meta-analysis

Int J Cancer. 2014 Jul 1;135(1):149-56. doi: 10.1002/ijc.28630. Epub 2013 Dec 18.


Skin cancers have a higher incidence than all other cancers combined and are a major cause of morbidity worldwide. Laboratory data suggest certain dietary constituents, notably omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFAs), could potentially protect against skin malignancy, although no large-scale review has been conducted in humans. The objective of this review and meta-analysis was to determine the relationship between dietary n-3 PUFAs and skin cancer incidence. It considered all published randomized controlled trials and observational studies up to March 2013. Five studies (two case-control and three cohort) were identified pertaining to oral n-3 PUFA consumption and incidence of basal cell carcinoma (BCC), squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), melanoma (or a combination) and were included in a random-effects meta-analysis. A further six studies considering nondietary n-3 PUFA exposure (e.g., by tissue analysis) and/or recognized biological markers of skin cancer risk (e.g., p53 expression) were analyzed qualitatively. Dietary n-3 PUFAs were not associated with BCC (pooled OR 1.05, 95% CIs 0.86-1.28). Consumption of high levels of n-3 PUFAs were inversely associated with melanoma, although with only one estimate available (OR 0.52, 95% CI 0.34-0.78), and SCC, although nonsignificantly (pooled OR 0.86, 95% CIs 0.59-1.23). Available evidence is suggestive, but currently inadequate, to support the hypothesis that n-3 PUFAs protect against skin malignancy.

Keywords: basal cell carcinoma; diet; melanoma; meta-analysis; omega 3; polyunsaturated fatty acids; skin cancer; squamous cell carcinoma; systematic review.

Publication types

  • Meta-Analysis
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Protective Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Risk Factors
  • Skin Neoplasms / diet therapy*
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology*
  • Skin Neoplasms / metabolism
  • Skin Neoplasms / pathology


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3
  • Protective Agents