A study has found that omega-3 fatty acids could reduce breast density – a risk factor for breast cancer – in postmenopausal obese women.
The study took the form of an open-label, randomized clinical trial of 266 postmenopausal women with high breast density who were either a normal weight, overweight or obese. The findings are published in Cancer Prevention Research.
Dr. Andrea Manni, professor and division chief of endocrinology, diabetes and metabolism at Penn College of Medicine in Hershey, PA, and colleagues believe that this reduced risk could relate to increased levels of inflammation associated with obesity leading to breast cancer.
“Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory effect, so that’s one of the reasons why we suspected it may be particularly effective in obese women,” Dr. Manni says.
These fatty acids are found in fish oil as well as some plant and nut oils and are believed to convey several health benefits, including reduced risk of coronary heart disease and improved cholesterol levels.
Previous studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids may help protect against breast cancer in obese women, although results have remained inconclusive. Dr. Manni suspects data obtained from normal-weight women may have caused this inconsistency.
The aim of the study was to measure the change in the participants’ breast density over 2 years. High breast density appears to be a risk factor for breast cancer; according to the National Cancer Institute (NCI), women with dense breast have a four- to sixfold increased risk of developing the disease.
“The higher the breast density, the more likely the woman will develop breast cancer,” asserts Dr. Manni.
However, scientists are divided as to why breast density is an independent cancer risk.