WASHINGTON--A study of European women suffering from breast cancer has raised the intriguing possibility that the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) may provide a way to predict an increased risk of the malignancy.
"We have looked at the balance between the two," said epidemiologist Neil Simonsen, PhD, of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, School of Public Health. "When we do that, the ratio of omega-3 to omega-6 appears to be important. The higher the ratio, the more protective."
Therefore, he said, the balance between the two forms of PUFAs may prove more relevant to the etiology of breast cancer than the absolute intake of a single fatty acid class.
Dr. Simonsen described the findings at Experimental Biology 96, an annual meeting of biological and biomedical researchers.
The PUFA ratio picture emerged from an analysis Dr. Simonsen conducted with colleagues at the University of North Carolina and in Europe, which failed to confirm laboratory suggestions that a diet high in omega-6 fatty acids enhances mammary tumor activity.
The omega-6 fatty acids constitute the most common PUFA group and include fats from corn oil and other vegetable sources. The second PUFA family, omega-3, is found in fish, primarily ocean fishes.
Dr. Simonsen and his colleagues used data from EURAMIC (European Study of Antioxidants, Myocardial Infarction, and Breast Cancer), a case-control investigation involving men and women. As part of the EURAMIC trial, investigators needle-biopsied adipose tissue from participants' buttocks to determine the antioxidant and fatty acid content.