The effect of polyunsaturated fatty acids on the progress of cachexia in patients with pancreatic cancer

Nutrition. 1996 Jan;12(1 Suppl):S27-30. doi: 10.1016/0899-9007(96)90014-3.


Cachexia is common in patients with pancreatic cancer and has been associated with persistent activation of the hepatic acute phase response and increased energy expenditure. Fatty acids have been shown to have anticachectic effects in animal models and to reduce inflammatory mediators in healthy subjects and patients with chronic inflammatory disease. Eighteen patients with unresectable pancreatic cancer received dietary supplementation orally with fish oil capsules (1 g each) containing eicosapentaenoic acid 18% and docosahexaenoic acid 12%. Anthropometric measurement, body composition analysis, and measurement of resting energy expenditure and serum C-reactive protein were performed before and after supplementation with a median of 12 g/day of fish oil. Patients had a median weight loss of 2.9 kg/month (IQR 2-4.6) prior to supplementation. At a median of 3 months after commencement of fish oil supplementation, patients had a median weight gain of 0.3 kg/month (IQR 0-0.5) (p < 0.002). Changes in weight were accompanied by a temporary but significant reduction in acute phase protein production (p < 0.002) and by stabilisation of resting energy expenditure. This study suggests a component fish oil, perhaps EPA, merits further investigation in the treatment of cancer cachexia.

MeSH terms

  • Acute-Phase Proteins / biosynthesis
  • Cachexia / drug therapy*
  • Cachexia / etiology*
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated / therapeutic use*
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid / therapeutic use
  • Energy Metabolism
  • Fish Oils / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Pancreatic Neoplasms / complications*
  • Weight Gain
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid / pharmacology


  • Acute-Phase Proteins
  • Dietary Fats, Unsaturated
  • Fish Oils
  • gamma-Linolenic Acid
  • Eicosapentaenoic Acid