St Mark's Hospital fish oil study could find solution to bowel cancer
A clinical study undertaken at St Mark’s Hospital, the country’s leading specialist hospital for colorectal and intestinal diseases in Harrow, offers hope for thousands of patients at risk of developing an inherited form of bowel cancer. And it could lead to a preventative treatment for all forms of the disease, the third most common cancer in the UK, diagnosed in around 37,000 people each year.
During a randomised, placebo-controlled trial, the St Mark’s team observed the condition of 55 patients over six months. Twenty eight patients were given 2 grams daily of a new highly purified formulation of the omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid EPA (called Alfa). Researchers observed a significant reduction in the number and size of polyps (pre-cancerous growths) in this group, whilst the placebo group showed an increase in polyp number and size over the same period.
A team of investigators from the University of Leeds analysed the results of the St Mark’s study on patients diagnosed with a rare inherited condition called FAP (familial adenomatous polyposis), thought to be responsible for about one in every 100 bowel cancers.
Scientists observed a significant reduction in the size and number of polyps, during the trial of the omega-3 preparation.
Now the Leeds team say that further research is needed to find out if this new agent, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) could help prevent the non-hereditary form of bowel cancer also.
FAP causes a large number of polyps to form in the lining of the large bowel. Patients usually undergo bowel surgery but remain at risk of developing polyps and cancer in any remaining bowel so that regular endoscopic (camera test) checks are required.
Ms Sue Clark, Consultant Colorectal Surgeon and Assistant Director of the Polyposis Registry at St Mark’s, said: “Because we are the national centre for this condition we were seeing patients who were an excellent group to study and we believe the results for FAP patients could be extended to all bowel cancer patients in the future, although this particular fish oil agent will need to be made widely available.”
The study, funded by SLA Pharma AG, was a collaboration between researchers at Leeds Institute of Molecular Medicine, St James’s University Hospital, Leeds, St Mark’s Hospital London, St George’s Hospital, London and Sant’Orsola-Malpighi Hospital, Bologna.
The particular preparation of EPA that was used delivers approximately four times as much beneficial polyunsaturated fatty acid per day as is derived from eating two to three portions of fish a week. The drug is also designed to be released into the small intestine, minimising nausea and halitosis often associated with taking over-the-counter fish oil supplements.
Further research is now needed to investigate whether the new preparation is a safe and effective treatment for the large number of patients who are found to have asymptomatic bowel polyps and who are at increased future risk of polyp recurrence and bowel cancer.
Around 85 per cent of people diagnosed with bowel cancer are over the age of 60. The Department of Health has introduced a screening programme for those aged between 60 and 75 and older people can request to be included through their GP.
Notes to Editors
• The paper “ Eicosapentaenoic acid reduces rectal polyp number and size in familial adenomatous polyposis” is published in GUT, a BMJ publication.