Breast cancer continues to be the leading form of cancer in women worldwide. It is also the second leading cause of death among female cancer patients. While treatment can be successful, there is no treatment better than prevention. But how, exactly, do you prevent breast cancer?
There have been many claims that cancer can be prevented through diet and nutrition. Unfortunately, there has been little proof to back up these claims. Additionally, David Ma, a professor in Guelph’s Department of Human Health and Nutritional Sciences, says that the human studies that have been conducted thus far are inconsistent.
“There are inherent challenges in conducting and measuring diet in such studies, and it has hindered our ability to firmly establish linkages between dietary nutrients and cancer risks,” Ma told Medical News Today. “So we’ve used modern genetic tools to address a classic nutritional question.”
Ma and his colleagues recently conducted a study that evaluated the cancer prevention qualities of omega-3’s in mice. They created two groups of genetically altered mice – one group that genetically produced omega-3 fatty acids and develops aggressive mammary tumors and one group that only developed tumors. They then studied the mice to determine if tumors were less prevalent in the mice that were genetically altered to produce omega-3s.
“This model provides a purely genetic approach to investigate the effects of lifelong omega-3s exposure on breast cancer development,” Ma said. “To our knowledge, no such approach has been used previously to investigate the role of omega-3s and breast cancer.”
Based on the results, researchers found that mice who had been designed to produce omega-3s developed only two-thirds as many tumors as the group that did not produce omega-3s. Additionally, the tumors in the omega-3 mice were 30 percent smaller than the tumors in the non-omega-3 group.
“The difference can be solely attributed to the presence of omega-3s in the transgenic mice – that’s significant,” Ma stated. “The fact that a food nutrient can have a significant effect on tumor development and growth is remarkable and has considerable implications in breast cancer prevention.”
Ma, who is known as an expert in how fats influence disease and health, says that he hopes the study leads to even more research on how diet can be used to decrease cancer risks. He also hopes that this information will bring more attention to the benefits of healthy living.
“It’s a significant finding…We show that a lifelong exposure to omega-3s has a beneficial role in disease prevention – in this case, breast cancer prevention. What’s important is that we have proven that omega-3s are the driving force and not something else,” he said. “Prevention is an area of growing importance. We are working to build a better planet, and that includes a better lifestyle and diet…The long-term consequences of reducing disease incidence can have a tremendous effect on the health-care system.”
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