While chemotherapy remains the mainstay of treatment for most types of cancer, there will be a need to improve what’s called the ‘therapeutic index’. Simply put this is a measure of the good a drug does versus the bad. Chemotherapy causes all kinds of toxic side effects while killing cancer cells, and generally it could kill more if given at a higher dose, but to do so ends up causes a lot more damage. One way of improving chemo is through the use of new generation drugs that target tumour cells rather than the indiscriminate slaughter of the older drugs.
Another way to do this is to find ways of protecting normal cells in some way and/or making cancer cells more susceptible to the effect of the existing chemo drugs. Can this be done safely? According to some researchers the answer is a qualified yes. And the magic drugs that can spare normal cells but make cancer cells more susceptible to chemo are…omega 3 fish oils. There is mounting evidence that omega 3 fish oils, specifically eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), can indeed work in this way.
A new paper ‘Selective sensitization of tumours to chemotherapy by marine derived lipids: A review’, published in the journal Cancer Treatment Reviews (abstract here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22850619), goes over the evidence from cell cultures, animal experiments and clinical trials. And there is a lot of evidence to go over. The authors summarise it quite nicely, showing that the positive effect is there across many tumour types (including breast, prostate, colon, lung, lymphomas and more), and across chemo types (nearly all of the main classes of chemotherapy drug are listed).
One very encouraging aspect of this story is the number of active clinical trials looking at this now. The pre-clinical results and first analyses from those human trials that have taken place have all been positive. And when you factor in the other positive effects of EPA and DHA, such as helping to cope with stress (http://www.anticancer.org.uk/2012/02/omega-3s-stress-and-cancer.html), or a reduction in side effects (http://www.anticancer.org.uk/2012/08/peripheral-neuropathy-and-chemotherapy.html), then it really does begin to seem as though high dose omega 3s should be the one supplement that every cancer patient takes.