Don't be so quick to take fish off the menu after possible link to higher cancer risk

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Don't be so quick to take fish off the menu after possible link to higher cancer risk

Post by geemong »

Don't be so quick to take fish off the menu after possible link to higher cancer risk


You wouldn’t expect fish and melanoma to be in the same headline – but they were last month. Researchers in the United States reported a higher risk of developing melanoma, a common type of potentially deadly skin cancer, in people who ate a relatively large amount of fish.

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The researchers speculated that their results may be due to the levels of contaminants in some fish species – especially fatty fish.

These contaminants include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) – synthetic chemical pollutants used as equipment coolants, lubricants and paint additives. PCBs are commonly found in the environment and can cause cancer in humans.

But a detailed look at the research shows the findings don’t necessarily mean we should all be cutting fish from our diets for fear of skin cancer.

The headline comes from a published study that followed more than 490,000 adults in the US for more than 15 years and checked cancer registry databases to see how many melanomas occurred within that same group of adults. Researchers classified melanomas as “in-situ”, meaning on the skin surface, or “malignant”, meaning they had spread deeper.

They also asked study participants about how much fish they usually ate using a reliable food frequency questionnaire.

People in the study reported how often they ate fish and their portion sizes of fried fish or fish sticks, non-fried fish, or seafood such as flounder, cod, shrimp, clams, crabs or lobster. They also reported how much and how often they ate canned tuna, including both water- and oil-packed tuna.

This study does not prove eating fish causes melanoma. This is because it’s a “cohort study”, meaning people were observed over time to see whether they developed melanoma or not.

There was no intervention to feed them specific amounts of fish, which would not have been practical to do over 15 years anyway. Researchers did measure a range of behaviours at the beginning of the study (or “baseline”), such as dietary intake and physical activity levels. But these could have changed over time.

So the results are based on observation rather than cause and effect. This doesn’t mean observational results should be ignored, though.
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