Anti-cancer activities of ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids

Biomed J. 2014 May-Jun;37(3):112-9. doi: 10.4103/2319-4170.131378.


The ω-3 and ω-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) are two major families of PUFAs present as essential cellular components which possess diverse bioactivities. The ω-3s, mainly found in seafood, are associated with many beneficial effects on human health, while the ω-6s are more abundant in our daily diet and could be implicated in many pathological processes including cancer development. Increasing evidence suggests that the adverse effects of ω-6s may be largely attributed to arachidonic acid (AA, a downstream ω-6) and the metabolite prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) that stems from its cyclooxygenase (COX)-catalyzed lipid peroxidation. On the other hand, two of AA's upstream ω-6s, γ-linolenic acid (GLA) and dihomo-γ-linolenic acid (DGLA), are shown to possess certain anti-cancer activities, including inducing cell apoptosis and inhibiting cell proliferation. In this paper, we review the documented anti-cancer activities of ω-6 PUFAs, including the recent findings regarding the anti-cancer effects of free radical-mediated DGLA peroxidation. The possible mechanisms and applications of DGLA (and other ω-6s) in inducing anti-cancer activity are also discussed. Considering the wide availability of ω-6s in our daily diet, the study of the potential beneficial effect of ω-6 PUFAs may guide us to develop an ω-6-based diet care strategy for cancer prevention and treatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Antineoplastic Agents / metabolism
  • Antineoplastic Agents / pharmacology*
  • Arachidonic Acid / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6 / pharmacology*
  • Free Radicals / metabolism*
  • Humans
  • Lipid Peroxidation / physiology*
  • Neoplasms* / prevention & control
  • Neoplasms* / therapy
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases / metabolism*


  • Antineoplastic Agents
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-6
  • Free Radicals
  • Arachidonic Acid
  • Prostaglandin-Endoperoxide Synthases