Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on cancer incidence, non-vascular death, and total mortality: a meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials

Yu-Fei Zhang1, Hong-Fang Gao1, An-Ji Hou1 and Yu-Hao Zhou2*

  • * Corresponding author: Yu-Hao Zhou

  • † Equal contributors

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Oncology, Shanghai Seventh People’s Hospital, Shanghai, China

2 Department of Rehabilitation Institute, Shanghai Seventh People’s Hospital, Shanghai 200137, China

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BMC Public Health 2014, 14:204  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-14-204

Published: 26 February 2014



Omega-3 fatty acids are known to prevent cardiac death. However, previous observational studies have suggested that omega-3 fatty acids are associated with cancer risk in adults. We conducted a meta-analysis based on randomized controlled trials to evaluate the effect of omega-3 fatty acids on the risk of cancer incidence, nonvascular death, and total mortality.


In February 2013, we performed electronic searches in PubMed, EmBase, and the Cochrane Library to identify randomized controlled trials on cancer incidence, nonvascular death, and total mortality. Relative risk (RR) was used to measure the effect of omega-3 fatty acid supplementation on the risk of cancer incidence, nonvascular death, and total mortality using a random-effect model. The analysis was further stratified by factors that could affect the treatment effects.


Of the 8,746 identified articles, we included 19 trials reporting data on 68,954 individuals. These studies reported 1,039 events of cancer, 2,439 events of nonvascular death, and 7,025 events of total mortality. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation had no effect on cancer incidence (RR, 1.10; 95% CI: 0.97–1.24; P = 0.12), nonvascular death (RR, 1.00; 95% CI: 0.93–1.08; P = 1.00), or total mortality (RR, 0.95; 95% CI: 0.88–1.03; P = 0.24) when compared to a placebo. Subgroup analysis indicated that omega-3 fatty acid supplementation was associated with a reduction in total mortality risk if the proportion of men in the study population was more than 80%, or participants received alpha-linolenic acid.


Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation does not have an effect on cancer incidence, nonvascular death, or total mortality.

Omega-3 fatty acid; Cancer; Mortality; Meta-analysis