Triple negative breast cancers that metastasize typically move to the lungs or liver, which is called visceral metastases. Now, research published in the November 2009 British Journal of Cancer demonstrates that use of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA)—found in cold water fish, fatty fish, fish oil supplements, and seaweed—along with chemotherapy can extend life for these patients, with few side effects.
The study was a clinical trial enrolling 25 women at University Hospital in Bretonneau in Tours, France on breast cancer patients with visceral metastases. Patients were given 1800 mg of DHA a day, as nine capsules a day, three at each meal. Patients were asked to limit intake of antioxidants. They started this regimen before chemotherapy and continued it throughout five months of chemo.
The median age of participants was 58; 72 percent had liver metastases and 40 per cent had three or more metastatic sites. These, then, were seriously ill patients.
Chemo consisted of FEC: cyclophosphamide and fluorouracil followed by an IV infusion of epirubicin administered every 3 weeks. (This is a common chemo regimen in Europe but not in the US.) DHA was suspended on the day of chemotherapy. Duration was at least six cycles.
Median overall survival was 22 months, with a high at 34 months. Previous studies had shown overall survival rates for FEC of 18-23 months.
Those with the longest survival had the highest DHA intake. The median time to progression was six months. The most common side effect was neuropathy, caused by the chemo.
So, this is no cause for cartwheels, as metastatic breast cancer is serious business, and the study only slowed death—it did not beat it. But this does show that a simply dietary supplement—fish oil—can improve the effects of chemotherapy. Researchers suggest that this effect comes because DHA strengthens the non-cancerous cells, giving them more oomph to fight against cancer.
Given that fish oil has many other positive effects—especially helping avoid heart problems—it seems we should incorporate it into our diets ASAP.
The irony of my writing this is that I ran out of fish oil about two weeks ago and keep forgetting to buy it. As soon as this blizzard subsides, I am heading out to replenish my supply. I do take a daily green drink that includes spirulina and seaweed, though, so I have some deep-sea goodies circulating