Moderate consumption of fish high in omega-3 fatty acids may reduce the risk of prostate cancer by as much as 50%, according to a recent study published in The Lancet.

The prostate is a male sex gland that is located between the bladder and the rectum. Prostate cancer occurs commonly in older men and is the second leading cause of cancer death in men in the United States. Prostate cancer is typically a disease of aging. It may persist undetected for many years without causing symptoms. In fact, most men die with prostate cancer not from prostate cancer.

Because prostate cancer develops over such a long period of time, any area that holds promise for prevention must be explored. It is currently believed that environmental factors may play a bigger role than genetic factors in the development of prostate cancer. Diet is one environmental factor that can be modified with the hope of reducing the risk of developing prostate cancer.

During a Swedish study that began in 1967, 6,272 twins completed questionnaires that assessed diet and other lifestyle factors. The researchers used the data from the questionnaires to ascertain whether various foods accounted for none, a small part, a moderate part or a large part of the subjects’ diets. The researchers then followed the subjects until diagnosis of prostate cancer, death or the end of the 30-year follow-up period.

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Using the National Cancer Register and the Death Causes Register, the researchers tracked the subjects for 30 years. During this follow-up period, 466 men developed prostate cancer and 340 of these cases were fatal. Upon comparing the data obtained from the questionnaires with the prostate cancer incidence, the researchers observed that an increasing proportion of fish in the diet was associated with a decreasing frequency of prostate cancer. Subjects who did not consume fish as part of their diet had a two-fold to three-fold higher frequency of prostate cancer than subjects who consumed moderate or large amounts of fish.

The researchers concluded that consumption of fatty fish reduces the risk of developing prostate cancer. More research is needed to further define the role of fatty fish in reducing the risk of prostate cancer. In the meantime, individuals interested in reducing their risk of prostate cancer may wish to add some fatty fish to their diets. Coldwater fish such as salmon, mackerel, halibut and herring contain especially high levels of omega-3 fatty acids. (The Lancet, Vol. 357, pp. 1764-1766, 2001)

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