A study looking at the effect of fish oil on bowel cancer cells that have spread to the liver

Cancer type:

Bowel (colorectal) cancer
Cancer spread to the liver
Secondary cancers

Status:

Results

Phase:

Phase 2

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 (biomarker) called Ki67 in both groups. They found that there was no difference in the amount of Ki67 between the tissues of both groups.

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 (peer reviewed) and published in a medical journal. The figures we quote above were provided by the trial team. We have not analysed the data ourselves.

Recruitment start:

Recruitment end:

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.

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Chief Investigator

Professor Mark Hull

Supported by

Cancer Research UK
Experimental Cancer Medicine Centre (ECMC)
National Institute for Health Research Cancer Research Network (NCRN)
Ray of Hope
SLA Pharma
University of Leeds

Other information

This is Cancer Research UK trial number CRUKE/10/035.

Questions about cancer? Contact our information nurses

Freephone 0808 800 4040

Last review date

CRUK internal database number:

Oracle - 6252

Please note - unless we state otherwise in the summary, you need to talk to your doctor about joining a trial.

Wendy took part in a new trial studying the possible side effect of hearing loss

A picture of Wendy

"I was delighted to take part in a clinical trial as it has the potential to really help others in the future.”

Last reviewed:

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