OK, as we mention in Chapter 6 of Positive Results, the headlines on which foods and supplements modify breast cancer risk change almost weekly. If you have been watching the headlines this week you know that fish oil is the latest fad in the news. This wave of publicity is the result of a study published in the current issue of Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention from the Specialty Supplement and Breast Cancer Risk in VITamins And Lifestyle (VITAL) Cohort. You can find the article here.
Fish oil was only one several supplements studies in the VITAL trial. It was, however, the only one that showed any correlation with potentially reduced breast cancer risk. Specifically, the study showed a modest but statistically significant reduction in breast cancer risk among postmenopausal women (ALL women not specifically high-risk women) who reported taking fish oil supplements. This study did not follow the amount or type of supplement taken.
So what does this mean for me?
The study authors were careful to say that their conclusion about the potential for fish oil to reduce breast cancer risk in the general population needs further study. They have also said that the current research does not warrant a broad recommendation that women of any age start taking fish oil supplements just to reduce breast cancer risk. You can find a related articles from Medpage Today and WebMD explaining the report here and here.
Many men and women take fish oil supplements because of their anti inflammatory properties including their potential to reduce heart disease risk. The National Institutes of Health information page on fish oil supplements, including the conditions for which there is evidence of beneficial effect and the safety of such supplements can be found here.
If you are taking fish oil supplements for other reasons, you may be getting an added breast cancer risk reduction benefit. But there is not sufficient evidence of fish oil's ability to prevent breast cancer to justify relying on it for breast cancer prevention, especially if you are at high risk for breast cancer due to a BRCA mutation, other genetic mutation, or family or personal history.
This study nonetheless will spur further research into the use of fish oil supplements for breast cancer prevention, which we think is a good thing.