Monounsaturated and Diunsaturated Fatty Acids Sensitize Cervical Cancer to Radiation Therapy

Cancer Res. 2022 Dec 16;82(24):4515-4527. doi: 10.1158/0008-5472.CAN-21-4369.


Obesity induces numerous physiological changes that can impact cancer risk and patient response to therapy. Obese patients with cervical cancer have been reported to have superior outcomes following chemoradiotherapy, suggesting that free fatty acids (FFA) might enhance response to radiotherapy. Here, using preclinical models, we show that monounsaturated and diunsaturated FFAs (uFFA) radiosensitize cervical cancer through a novel p53-dependent mechanism. UFFAs signaled through PPARγ and p53 to promote lipid uptake, storage, and metabolism after radiotherapy. Stable isotope labeling confirmed that cervical cancer cells increase both catabolic and anabolic oleate metabolism in response to radiotherapy, with associated increases in dependence on mitochondrial fatty acid oxidation for survival. In vivo, supplementation with exogenous oleate suppressed tumor growth in xenografts after radiotherapy, an effect that could be partially mimicked in tumors from high fat diet-induced obese mice. These results suggest that supplementation with uFFAs may improve tumor responses to radiotherapy, particularly in p53 wild-type tumors.

Significance: Metabolism of monounsaturated and diunsaturated fatty acids improves the efficacy of radiotherapy in cancer through modulation of p53 activity. See related commentary by Jungles and Green, p. 4513.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Diet, High-Fat / adverse effects
  • Fatty Acids* / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified / metabolism
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Mice
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Oleic Acid
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / drug therapy
  • Uterine Cervical Neoplasms* / radiotherapy


  • Fatty Acids
  • Oleic Acid
  • Tumor Suppressor Protein p53
  • Fatty Acids, Nonesterified
  • Fatty Acids, Monounsaturated