Skin cancer is the most common cancer in the U.S. Annually more than 2 million people are treated for basal cell or squamous cell skin cancer. Basal cell skin cancer is the most common form of skin cancer (National Cancer Institute, 2011).
You might find the following information, just published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition practical. The article details provided below might give you more information when considering all options for the prevention or treatment of skin cancer.
Please, always tell your health care providers about all therapies or treatments you are considering, including over-the-counter and prescription medicines, as well as dietary and herbal supplements.
Objectives for Fish Oil Supplements and Skin Cancer Study:
Pilkington et al. (2013) undertook a nutritional study to investigate whether or not fish oil supplements can “abrogate photoimmunosuppresion.” A fancy term for saying sunlight damages the skin to the point where cancer cells evade immune destruction.
Study Eligibility Criteria:
The reason why you are reading about this study here on the Alternative Medicine Blog is that it met specific inclusion criteria. One of them is that many cancer patients ask me what they can do nutritionally to facilitate treatment or prevention of cancer. Another is that the study met certain quality guidelines for it to be considered to be useful evidence-based information. Not all studies are created equal, so one must be careful what “evidence” to consider, especially in the cancer setting. For more information see the section titled Study Appraisal and Limitations below.
Seventy-nine healthy female volunteers (22-60 years old, phototype I or II) with nickel allergy were recruited. The volunteers had to have a nickel allergy for the investigators to determine whether or not fish oil supplements can suppress nickel sensitivity after exposure to sunlight.
In a double-blind, randomized controlled study, the above-mentioned volunteers took 5 grams of fish oil supplements or a control lipid daily for 3 months. After supplementation, nickel was applied to 3 skin sites pre-exposed on 3 consecutive days to artificial sunlight and to 3 unexposed control sites. Nickel allergy responses were measured after 72 hours, and the percentage of immunosuppression by artificial sunlight exposure was calculated. Erythrocyte [red blood cell (RBC)] EPA was measured by using gas chromatography.
Table 1 illustrates the evaluation of the risk of bias: Quality measures of the Pilkington et al. (2013) study:
Artificial sunlight dose-related suppression of the nickel allergy was observed in both groups. The allergic reaction to nickel appeared to be less in the fish oil group than in the control group. However, the results did not achieve statistically significance [mean difference (95% CI): 6.9% (22.1%, 15.9%)].
Fish oil levels as measured by red blood cell eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) was 4-fold higher in the fish oil group than in the control group (mean difference: 2.69% (95% CI: 2.23%, 3.14%), which confirmed the fish oil bioavailability.
Limitations of this Study for Cancer Patients and Cancer Survivors:
- Even though, encouraging, the results did not reach statistical significance.
- Study participants were all women, so it is unclear whether or not these results are applicable to men with skin cancer.
- From this study alone, it is not clear whether or not fish oil supplementation might aid in the treatment of skin cancer.
Main Conclusions and Implications of Key Findings for Cancer Patients and Cancer Survivors from the Pilkington et al. (2013) study:
- The present study suggested that fish oil supplements are protective against skin damage from the sunlight.
- Although this change was small, a constant low level of chemoprevention could reduce the risk of skin cancer over a person’s lifetime, which would provide a strong effect at the population level (p. 650).
- The amount of fish oil supplementation (4 grams/day) equates to about 1½ portions of oily fish per day!
- In conclusion, this study suggests that supplementation with fish oils, may protect human skin from skin damage induced by short exposures to sunlight.
- Additional studies are required to confirm the findings of the current study.
- Fish oil supplementation might aid in the prevention of skin cancer recurrence.
The study was performed at the Photobiology Unit, Dermatological Sciences, Salford Royal National Health Service Foundation Hospital (Manchester, United Kingdom) between 2008 and 2010.
None of the authors in the Pilkington et al. (2013) study declared a conflict of interest and sources of funding and the source of the supplements are identified in the paper.
National Cancer Institute. (2011, January 11). What You Need To Know About Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers. What You Need To Know About Melanoma and Other Skin Cancers. Retrieved March 2, 2013, from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/skin
Pilkington, S. M., Massey, K. A., Bennett, S. P., Al-Aasswad, N. M., Roshdy, K., Gibbs, N. K., … Rhodes, L. E. (2013). Randomized controlled trial of oral omega-3 PUFA in solar-simulated radiation-induced suppression of human cutaneous immune responses. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 97(3), 646–652. doi:10.3945/ajcn.112.049494