Last year in the UK over 60,000 cancer patients enrolled on clinical trials aimed at improving cancer treatments and making them available to all.
A study looking at the effect of fish oil on bowel cancer cells that have spread to the liver
This study looked at the omega 3 fish oil EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) in people who had surgery to remove bowel cancer that had spread to the liver. It recruited people under the care of the liver unit at St James’ Hospital, Leeds.
If bowel cancer spreads, it often goes to the liver. If the tumours in the liver are small, you can have surgery to remove them. Or chemotherapy if you are not able to have surgery. But the side effects of bowel cancer chemotherapy can often affect people’s quality of life. So doctors wanted to find a new way of preventing or treating cancer spread to the liver.
Many people take omega 3 fish oil because they think it will help keep their heart and joints healthy. Researchers have found that certain fish oils, including EPA can also slow down the growth of bowel cancer cells in the laboratory. The oils can also increase the rate that cancer cells self destruct (‘apoptosis’). They wanted to see if EPA had the same effect on bowel cancer cells that had spread to the liver. They studied liver tissue that had been removed from people who took a short course of EPA or a dummy (placebo) capsule.
The main aim of this study was to see if taking EPA daily slowed down the rate that bowel cancer cells grew in the liver.
Summary of results
The trial team found that EPA was safe and that it reduced blood flow to the cancer cells in the liver. It didn’t reduce how much or how fast the cancer cells grew.
This was a phase 2 trial. It recruited 88 people who had surgery to remove bowel cancer spread to their liver.
It was a randomised trial. The people who took part were put into treatment groups by a computer. Neither they nor their doctor were able to decide which group they were in. And neither the person, nor their doctor, knew which group they were in. This is called a double blind trial.
- 43 people took EPA before having surgery
- 45 people took a dummy drug (placebo) before having surgery
After surgery the researchers looked at the samples of liver tissue. They compared the amount of a substance (
The trial team concluded that EPA reduced the blood flow to the bowel cancer cells in the liver. But it didn’t reduce how much or how fast they grew.
We have based this summary on information from the team who ran the trial. The information they sent us has been reviewed by independent specialists (
How to join a clinical trial
Please note: In order to join a trial you will need to discuss it with your doctor, unless otherwise specified.
Professor Mark Hull
Cancer Research UK
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
National Institute for Health Research Cancer Research Network (NCRN)
Ray of Hope
University of Leeds
This is Cancer Research UK trial number CRUKE/10/035.