Long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids decrease mammary tumor growth, multiorgan metastasis and enhance survival


Epidemiological studies show a reduced risk of breast cancer (BC) in women consuming high levels of long-chain (LC) omega-3 (ω-3) fatty acids (FAs) compared with women who consumed low levels. However, the regulatory and mechanistic roles of dietary ω-6 and LC-ω-3 FAs on tumor progression, metastasis and survival are poorly understood. Female BALB/c mice (10-week old) were pair-fed with a diet containing ω-3 or an isocaloric, isolipidic ω-6 diet for 16 weeks prior to the orthotopic implantation of 4T1 mammary tumor cells. Major outcomes studied included: mammary tumor growth, survival analysis, and metastases analyses in multiple organs including pulmonary, hepatic, bone, cardiac, renal, ovarian, and contralateral MG (CMG). The dietary regulation of the tumor microenvironment was evaluated in mice autopsied on day-35 post tumor injection. In mice fed the ω-3 containing diet, there was a significant delay in tumor initiation and prolonged survival relative to the ω-6 diet-fed group. The tumor size on day 35 post tumor injection in the ω-3 group was 50% smaller and the frequencies of pulmonary and bone metastases were significantly lower relative to the ω-6 group. Similarly, the incidence/frequencies and/or size of cardiac, renal, ovarian metastases were significantly lower in mice fed the ω-3 diet. The analyses of the tumor microenvironment showed that tumors in the ω-3 group had significantly lower numbers of proliferating tumor cells (Ki67+)/high power field (HPF), and higher numbers of apoptotic tumor cells (TUNEL+)/HPF, lower neo-vascularization (CD31+ vessels/HPF), infiltration by neutrophil elastase+ cells, and macrophages (F4/80+) relative to the tumors from the ω-6 group. Further, in tumors from the ω-3 diet-fed mice, T-cell infiltration was 102% higher resulting in a neutrophil to T-lymphocyte ratio (NLR) that was 76% lower (p < 0.05). Direct correlations were observed between NLR with tumor size and T-cell infiltration with the number of apoptotic tumor cells. qRT-PCR analysis revealed that tumor IL10 mRNA levels were significantly higher (six-fold) in the tumors from mice fed the ω-3 diet and inversely correlated with the tumor size. Our data suggest that dietary LC-ω-3FAs modulates the mammary tumor microenvironment slowing tumor growth, and reducing metastases to both common and less preferential organs resulting in prolonged survival. The surrogate analyses undertaken support a mechanism of action by dietary LC-ω-3FAs that includes, but is not limited to decreased infiltration by myeloid cells (neutrophils and macrophages), an increase in CD3+ lymphocyte infiltration and IL10 associated anti-inflammatory activity.

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Fig. 7



Arachidonic acid


Breast cancer


Contralateral breast cancer


Contralateral mammary gland


Docosahexaenoic acid


Eicosapentaenoic acid


Fatty acid


Histologically observed




Mammary fat pad


Mammary gland


Non-tumor bearing


Neutrophil to lymphocyte ratio


Polyunsaturated fatty acid


Quantitative real-time polymerase chain reaction


Tumor bearing


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We gratefully acknowledge funding from the Fred & Pamela Buffett Cancer Center’s NIH Cancer Center Support Grant No. (P30CA036727) and the Nebraska Center for Integrated Biomolecular Communications (Grant No. P20GM113126) for this project. Also, funding from the UNMC College of Medicine (LWK) Endowed Chair.

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Khadge, S., Thiele, G.M., Sharp, J.G. et al. Long-chain omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids decrease mammary tumor growth, multiorgan metastasis and enhance survival. Clin Exp Metastasis 35, 797–818 (2018). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10585-018-9941-7

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  • PUFA
  • Omega-3
  • Mammary tumor
  • Metastasis
  • Survival