Studies with animal models in vivo as well as with animal and human tumor cells in vitro suggest that specific fatty acids could reduce breast tumorigenesis. The most striking dietary fatty acid studies in animal models that show promise for reduction of breast cancer risk in humans are with conjugated linoleic acids (CLA) and n-3 fatty acids.

Although a number of mechanisms have been proposed, the specific target of those fatty acids is not yet known. We sought to determine whether the effects of those fatty acids on terminally differentiated tumor cell seen could be due to alteration of breast cancer stem cells.

The isomers, cis9, trans11-CLA and trans10, cis12-CLA, and the n-3 fatty acids, docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic, reduced the proliferation of, and had increased toxicity towards, mammary tumor initiating cells. One mechanism involved in the effect of n-3 fatty acids may be due to alteration of the profile of prostaglandins.

These results indicate that select fatty acids may be useful for preventing or reducing the risk of breast cancer as they may target the tumor initiating cell.